"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is the definition of unalienable rights that the government should protect. At least, so says the Declaration of Independence.
"Life" makes sense. We need a country with laws and streetlights that will increase the likelihood of survival.
"Liberty" works, as well. That was the whole idea behind the revolution in the first place and what differentiates the United States.
However, "happiness" as a right that the government should protect seems different and profoundly American, but it is not.
The philosopher Aristotle (not an American) recognized the importance of happiness long before the Founding Fathers declared their independence.
In fact, in one of his most famous works, "Nicomachean Ethics," he concludes, "happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence."
Now technically, the U.S. government does not have to get people to the point of actually being happy. People just need to be able to "pursue" happiness. It seems like a bit of a cop-out, but it's close enough to what Aristotle was talking about.
Happiness is a noble pursuit, but most Americans do not focus actively on being happy. Most people have seemingly more important and time-sensitive things to worry about, such as paying bills, getting or keeping a job and the day-to-day grind of life. Who has time to pursue happiness?
Life is too precious and too short. Your job is where you are going to spend the majority of your life. If you are not fulfilled with your job, or worse, if you hate it, you need to rethink what you're doing with your life.
In a speech given to the graduating class at Stanford University in 2005, Apple founder Steve Jobs said, "When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: 'If you live each day as if it was your last, some day you'll most certainly be right.' It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."
Living every day as if it is your last does not mean you should empty your bank account and gorge yourself on the Haagen-Dazs. But it does mean that you should do some serious self-reflection and see how the job that you are currently in makes you feel. If it does not make you happy, then take a look at your career path and see if there is hope in the future. If you take a look down the road and staying on the path you're on does not look like a good story ending, then you need to course correct by doing more self-reflection.
One thing to be wary of is this notion of happiness. A job is called a job because you get paid money to do it. There are parts of every job that you are not going to like, and even the seemingly coolest job, after being done over and over again, will eventually lose its luster after a while. People like new and different more than quality sometimes. (Just ask Elin Nordegren.)
Instead of pursuing happiness, think about pursuing meaning. You want to have a job, a career and ultimately a life that you feel is important and has purpose. You will spend the majority of your adult life working. You need to make sure that the work that you're doing means something to you.
I am not encouraging everyone to quit their current jobs and pursue their hobbies or interests as careers, but I am encouraging people to take a look in the mirror, examine the path that they are on and question if it is the right one.
Our most valuable resource is time. We can't drill for it, save it or make more of it. The only thing we can do is spend it. Spend your time in a career that will give your life meaning. If you do that, I am pretty sure that you will find happiness.