Monday, August 17, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

"Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. . . ." Joseph Smith

Everyone wants to be happy. Joseph Smith taught that our earthly experience was meant to give us every opportunity to feel that way. I love this quote by David McCullough regarding the founding fathers and their definition of true happiness. It incorporates cherished LDS beliefs regarding education and agency and service.

"But it is in their ideas about happiness, I believe, that we come close to the heart of their being, and to their large view of the possibilities in their Glorious Cause.

In general, happiness was understood to mean being at peace with the world in the biblical sense, under one's own "vine and fig tree." But what did they, the Founders, mean by the expression, "pursuit of happiness"?

It didn't mean long vacations or material possessions or ease. As much as anything it meant the life of the mind and spirit. It meant education and the love of learning, the freedom to think for oneself.

Jefferson defined happiness as "tranquility and occupation." For Jefferson, as we know, occupation meant mainly his intellectual pursuits.

Washington, though less inclined to speculate on such matters, considered education of surpassing value, in part because he had had so little. Once, when a friend came to say he hadn't money enough to send his son to college, Washington agreed to help -- providing a hundred pounds in all, a sizable sum then -- and with the hope, as he wrote, that the boy's education would "not only promote his own happiness, but the future welfare of others …." For Washington, happiness derived both from learning and employing the benefits of learning to further the welfare of others.

The entire fascinating lecture can be found here:


  1. What a sweet invitation to found your life firmly in Zion not Babylon.

    Pilate's question of "what is truth?" is answered in as many ways as is "what is happiness?" Truly, being on the road to Zion offers the only peace and happiness in this telestial journey.

  2. Ah, now you've hit my soft spot...David McCullough. I love his observations. I love his interviews in BYU Magazine back from...about...2006? when he spoke at the Y.

  3. I wonder if he put "pursuit" in there not because we are supposed to pursue happiness while in misery, but that the more we apply righteous principles, the happier we are. We, therefore are constantly in pursuit of, and receiving greater and greater degrees of happiness. In other words, we can, and should be happy during the pursuit itself.
    I believe that is part of eternal progression, receiving more and more happiness. Especially if what makes you happy is loving others... Because that would mean that an eternal increase of posterity, etc. would mean an eternal increase in happiness throughout the eternities!
    It is like an investigator once told me... "After I had my first child, I was amazed at how much I loved him. I didn't know I could love that much and I felt as if my whole soul was filled to the brim with love for him."
    He then went on to explain that because of this, he was worried when his wife was pregnant with his second child, that he would not have enough capacity left to love him as the first. But, as he put it, "my cup runneth over"
    We are entitled, through our freedom, granted by God through agency and through our predecessors for our temporal liberty, to constantly be in pursuit of greater and greater degrees of happiness. Which is, in my opinion, an eternal pursuit.