“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” Declaration of Independence, 1776
In writing this infamous passage in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson made a significant change in the original wording (written by John Locke) from “life, liberty, and property” to the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
It is significant because, in our world today, we seem to have gone back to John Locke’s image of inalienable rights instead of Jefferson’s.
Jefferson is no theologian, but he seemed to be right on when he wanted us to understand that in this world, we aren’t entitled to money, land, or possessions; rather, he sensed that God gave us three greater gifts: the gift of life, the gift of free will, and the gift to dream.
The Pursuit of Happyness, staring Will Smith as Chris Gardner, captures that understanding. There is one scene in particular that caught my attention; Gardner is walking by a stock broker on his way into work and notices his happiness (not to mention his shiny red sports car), and sees how all his colleagues going in and out of work have a general sense of happiness. It is at this moment in the film that pushes Chris Gardner to aim not towards money or a solid career, but towards happiness.
St. Paul reminded his Corinthian audience, “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.” (1 Cor. 9:24). Gardner, like the rest of us, are in the race of this world; but what prize are eyes fixed on?
Unlike his peers, Gardner was not after the fancy cars or even the financial security. What Gardner seemed to be after was true happiness. That was his prize, and like St. Paul says “we race to win an imperishable crown and in so doing, I never run aimlessly.” (1 Cor. 9:25-26).
What are we racing towards? Too often, we race for John Locke’s image of life: that we are in pursuit of property, wealth, and selfish ends.
Why do we have our jobs? To put food on the table? To pay the bills? To one day become rich or have a nice house? Or do we have a job so that we can be truly happy with our purpose on this earth?
Why do we get involved with church ministry or civic organizations? To meet others? To gain friends? Or do we get involved so that we can find happiness in our interests or in our faith life?
This film reminds us that we need to pursue happiness – or a more Scriptural term, “joy.” In the Christmas season, we are constantly singing about “joy to the world.” Joy is not just an empty satisfaction, but an experience of all being right with the world. Joy is not getting gifts at Christmas, but giving them away and seeing the smile on another’s face. Joy is not sitting down, propping up our feet, and relaxing over the holidays, but getting out there and making a difference in our world through our actions. Pursuing any of this is never easy, but the end product is a joy beyond compare.
What is our life directed towards? For what do we race through this world? Are our eyes truly set on the real prize? Property or happiness? I hope we all choose happiness a bit more often in the new year ahead.