By David Hegg
When the framers of the Declaration of Independence declared that among the “unalienable rights” imputed to each of us by our Creator is “the pursuit of happiness,” they were really on to something. In their wisdom they declared that, while life and liberty were rights endowed to all, when it came to happiness only the right to pursue it fell to each of us. That is, happiness is not something we come into this world automatically entitled to enjoy. It is something we must pursue.
Today far too many walk around in the cloud of entitlement. In their forays into education, athletics, relationships and business, they brandish an entitlement attitude like a sword, almost daring others to say it isn’t so.
Consequently, they are quite shocked when told to work hard, persevere through adversity, and even learn from their disappointments, in order to gain a true, consistent and lasting sense of wellbeing. The idea that happiness must be pursued seems crazy to a generation that has always considered society as obligated to give it to them.
The truth is that races are only won by those who run, and who are willing to deal with the pain that every worthy gain demands. So, for those who are just setting out to make sense of the world and something of their lives, I have the following suggestions on what it will take to pursue – and achieve – the kind of happiness our founding fathers recognized as synonymous with a life well-lived.
1. Develop character first: Determine that the kind of person you are is the most important thing about you. Read any biography of a world-changer and you’ll find that whatever success they achieved was built on a foundation of radical integrity, courage, unwavering focus and an iron will. Understand that any success you attain before you’ve built strong character will most likely overwhelm your weaknesses and destroy your life. Just look around at all the millionaires with broken families, broken bodies and broken kingdoms. Character must come first.
2. Prize learning forever: Learn to love learning, and never stop. Value educational opportunities both in and out of school. Work hard to master subjects rather than merely pass the test and get the grade. And make it a part of your life-plan to be a lifelong learner. Education is an investment in yourself, and always pays the highest dividends. Lifelong learning, done well, will not only keep you sharp and on point, but also help keep you humble as each day reminds you how much you have left to learn.
3. Demand excellence in all things: Demand excellence from yourself, in every area of life. Be a disciplined person. Put things away. Clean up your messes. Do things right and do the right things, for the right reasons. Don’t waste your life on things that really don’t matter. The passing fads and fancies of culture are for those who will never attempt anything great. Don’t be that person. As someone somewhere has said, “Don’t fear failure. Fear spending your life succeeding at things that don’t really matter.”
4. Finish well: Be the person others can count on to get the job done, keep your promises, and persevere in righteousness despite societal opposition or adverse circumstance. Be the hero your family, friends and neighbors want and your country needs.
Don’t lay around waiting for happiness to drop in. Prepare yourself with character, convictions, knowledge and wisdom. Then, go out and make a difference in your world. And when all is said and done, you’ll find that you not only pursued happiness, you caught it and made it your own.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.