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The Pursuit of Happiness


The pursuit of happiness ... The founders of this great country spoke of certain inalienable rights. We learned the words in elementary school. We are "endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights." These are the rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." But what about this third right? Note that they didn't promise us the right to be happy, only the right to pursue happiness.

What is the pursuit of happiness? Doesn't everybody pursue happiness? How can we pursue happiness? I want to look at these questions, one by one.

First, we need a working definition of the "pursuit of happiness." Like another recent Toastmaster speaker, I don't care much for dictionary definitions, so I will make up my own.

Let's say I want to pick up, for example, this pencil. I don't need to pursue it, it's not moving, so I simply reach out and pick it up. But, suppose when I get to my bus stop, my bus is leaving. I will run after it, pursue it actively. Pursuit, then, means actively working to reach a goal.

Happiness ... That's an abstract concept, which is a little bit harder. I define happiness as "contentment with one's daily life." So, we have our working definition.

Pursuit of happiness ... "actively working to achieve daily contentment."

Not everybody pursues happiness. There is a woman who rides the bus daily with my husband and myself. I don't know anything about her life, but we have noticed that every single day, when she gets on the bus, she sighs loudly. Then, as likely as not, she grumbles about something, whether it's the schedule, the condition of the bus or the weather. We all know people like that, I believe. Some people seem to pursue unhappiness. So, it's up to you.

We've decided what the pursuit of happiness is and we see that it's a choice. If you make this choice, as I certainly hope that you do, how can you actively pursue happiness? There are many ways, but within the scope of this speech, I have selected just a few ideas.

Take pleasure in the little things. Sometimes, people think, "I'll be happy when I get married" or when "the kids grow up" or when "I win the lottery" and so on. But, waiting for life's big events, you can miss the little everyday pleasures. To use a personal example, I decided on the topic of this talk on a recent Sunday afternoon, when my husband and I took advantage of a beautiful afternoon, by driving to the lake. We were pursuing happiness by getting out of the house and enjoying each other's company.

Treat yourself. You're busy, but occasionally take the time and effort to do something for yourself. What I like to do, when I feel like I deserve something nice is to go to the bookstore across the street from where I work and pick out a good book for myself. What do you like? A sporting event, a movie, music, even flowers for yourself? You get presents for other people, get one for yourself now and then.

Look on the bright side. There is a cliche about seeing the glass as being half-empty or half-full. But, in this cliche, as in most others, there is truth. Are you so busy at work that you don't know how you'll ever get it all done? Be glad you're employed. Is your family driving you nuts? Be grateful that you have these loved ones. Pursue happiness by seeing the glass as half-full, whenever you can.

Do things for others. Thinking about other people puts things in perspective and makes your own problems seem less significant. Everybody can find some kind of appropriate volunteer work or community work. As an example of this, I am very proud of something that my son does. As a student at Ohio State, he became involved in volunteer tutoring for their Disability Services program. He found that he enjoyed it, so he did not drop it when he graduated. He is still actively involved, often driving to a student's house after a busy day at work.

If you take pleasure in the little things, treat yourself, look on the bright side and do things for others, will you be guaranteed happiness? No, this is not K-Mart and life has no guarantees. But, remember ... The founding fathers did not speak of the right to happiness, only of the right to its pursuit. If you do these things, you will surely pursue happiness and you will have an excellent chance of achieving it.


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