Written by Jeanette Oh
When thinking about happiness, one quote made by Will Smith in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness comes to mind:
“It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking: how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue, and maybe we can actually never have it. No matter what. How did he know that?”
What strikes me about this quote is its ubiquitous relatability, and that even amidst our liberal, privileged lives, we may still experience times when being happy seems like something so simple, yet so completely unattainable. However, we don’t have to feel this way. Indeed, I believe that, with the right mindset and attitude, we are all capable of pursuing our own happiness.
It’s safe to assume that when asked what one’s life goal may be, the most popular answer will be: to be happy. In spite of this answer, the average score of overall happiness from North Americans levels out to be a lowly 7.2 out of 10. Ultimately, our main source of discontent stems from human nature’s common habit of over-estimating ourselves for the future, as opposed to appreciating what we are right now. Consequently, we develop an “I’ll be happy when..” attitude, constantly striving for more goals, believing that it will be our answer to being happy, only to realize that once we have it, we need more. Thanks to the media, we subconsciously put our faith in material or superficial ideas, telling ourselves “I’ll be happy when I find my soulmate, get a promotion or find a good home.” Yet, this is not the case. Happiness can only be felt by feeling in the moment and cannot be solely derived from getting what we want but, rather, from our perceptions of what we already have.
The lasting influence of perception is best conveyed in a story about an elder sitting with his grandchildren telling them that,
“Every day, there is a terrible fight between two wolves inside of us. One is evil: he represents fear, anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, and deceit, whilst the other is good. He represents joy, serenity, humility, confidence, generosity, truth, gentleness, and compassion.”
A child asks, “Grandfather, which wolf will win the fight?” to which the elder looked him in the eye and replied, “The one you feed.”
Throughout the course of your life, you will have to face many hard times, and being happy does not excuse you from avoiding these crashes altogether. However, we fall down to learn how to pick ourselves back up. Happy people do not let their circumstances bring them down but, rather, put the effort into changing their circumstances. As J.K. Rowling once wisely put: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” In other words, only by expressing gratitude for what we have, cherishing unexpected gifts from life, and maintaining an overall positive outlook can we find that elusive state called happiness.
So what did Thomas Jefferson mean when he was talking about the pursuit of happiness? In all truth, pursuit never meant to chase or attain. It meant to practice, so practice happiness and try live your life to your fullest potential every moment, of everyday, for as stated by Margaret Runbeck, “Happiness is not a state to arrive at, rather, a manner of traveling.”