The Pursuit of Happiness
I’ve been working on a book that is supposed to release this fall.
One of the chapters was recently published as an essay in Shield Wall, a journal of theological poetics from the community of students at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, ID.
I tell you that for two reasons.
First, I hope you’ll read it because I think it’s an important message Christian writers need to hear. Here’s the link, if you’re so inclined.
Second, I hope it opens the door to the bigger discussion about Christianity and matters of philosophy.
On this topic, there is a spectrum of belief about the relationship between reason and faith. One extreme is the belief that faith and reason are mutually exclusive. The other extreme is the syncretism of reason and faith in which they become virtues equal in quality and consequence.
The problem is both extremes are dangerous ditches on either side of an important road every human is obliged to travel.
So, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, or even more to the point, if you just got offended that I used the expression, obliged to travel, as though I believe there is a responsibility to absolute truth every individual is obliged to pursue, I hope you’ll read on.
What is the Pursuit of Happiness?
In Steven Conrad’s 2006 drama, The Pursuit of Happyness, the protagonist, Chris Gardner, played by Will Smith, lays the thesis of the film, and more so, the final cause of the modern man, at the feet of the viewers when he says,
“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?”
The inspiration for the film is derived from what James Truslow Adams, in his book The Epic of America, called the American Dream.
Written in 1931, he described it as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
The American Dream is a modernized view of the perennial idea of happiness, or what the ancients called eudaimonia.
This dream is rooted in the famous expression penned in theDeclaration’s preamble, that there are truths held “to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It was a dream germinating when Tocqueville visited the States in 1831 and wrote,
“As conditions are equalized, one finds a great number of individuals not being wealthy enough or powerful enough to exert a great influence over the fates of those like them, have nevertheless acquired or preserved enough enlightenment and goods to be able to be self-sufficient. These owing nothing to anyone, they expect so to speak nothing from anyone; they are in the habit of always considering themselves in isolation, and they willingly fancy that their whole destiny is in their hands.”
The dream bloomed during the American Industrial Revolution following the Civil War, then flourished after the Second World War with the proliferation of the G.I. Bill and low-interest home mortgages, which promised a college education and a home with a white picket fence to anyone who was willing to pursue it.
But what if the modern idea we have come to call the American Dream isn’t what happiness is all about after all?
What if that’s why according to a recent national survey three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) say they wished they were living a more meaningful life.
Consider the implication: even though Americans live in the most free and prosperous nation in the world, only one in four feel they are living a significant life.
If you want to learn more, check out this FREE guided reading course where culture-makers, like you and me, read and discuss the great ideas that all people who know true happiness have wrestled with and conceptualized over the past 2500 years.
There’s only two things you need to do: first, secure a copy of Mortimer J. Adler’s Six Great Ideas. (It’s your only expense and it costs $12.99 on Kindle, about $4 used, and you may even be able to secure a copy from your local library.)
Second, join the closed Facebook reading group, Coram Deo Communitas. Enrollment opened on April 5th, but the first discussion doesn’t take place until April 11th.
That’s it! What are you waiting for?
About Scott Postma
Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He helps people cultivate their capacity to perceive and appreciate the good, the true, and the beautiful by sharing rich insights into the arts and humanities, meaningful perspective on faith and culture, and valuable tips on writing and teaching. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.