Thomas Jefferson caused a lot of problems when he said that we all have an inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Life, certainly. Liberty, no disagreement. But it’s that last one, the pursuit of happiness, that causes so much unhappiness.
The problems lie in the notion that happiness is something that needs to be pursued. But happiness is not a pursuit. It’s not something out there, nor is it something external to us. Happiness starts with the most personal commitment that any human being can make.
First, we decide to be happy.
Individual happiness begins the moment that any person, regardless of his or her circumstances, decides to be happy. A person can be in miserable conditions, lacking advantages and opportunities, and still decide to be happy. The moment that a person decides to be happy, he or she immediately begins gravitating to other people who have made the same decision.
The decision to be happy communicates itself to the world, and all of the other things in the world that are already happy—people, places, activities, and circumstances—begin to communicate back.
As we progress forward in the 21st century, and as the promise and performance of microtechnology become greater, we are going to be told constantly that the next technological breakthrough will be the one that finally makes us happy. Don’t believe a word of it. None of these new methods and machines are producing any more individual happiness than anything we have created in the past. The decision to be happy for the rest of our life is a decision that each of us can make right now.
Excerpted from The Great Crossover by Dan Sullivan, 2nd ed. Toronto, ON: The Strategic Coach Inc., 2000.