Last Updated 05 Jan 2023

The Founding Fathers of America and the Pursuit of Happiness

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In today's society, one cannot go far into their day without seeing or hearing an

advertisement. We wake up and turn on the news to see a commercial for breakfast cereal, we get

in our cars and the radio is blaring a blowout sale at a department store, we flip through a magazine and see ads for clothes or perfume or fancy cars. Most of these ads have fancy slogans:

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they promise that they'll make your life better, that it will make everyone love you, that you'll

finally have everything you need. America today is a consumer culture, and our economy is measured by how much we as consumers spend. We hear in the news every year the numbers of fireworks bought on the Fourth of July, how much money was spent on back-to-school supplies, and, of course, how much is being spent on Christmas presents this year. Black Friday is as much of a holiday as Thanksgiving. And although America has a thriving consumer culture, we do not seem to be getting any happier. Too many Americans are putting their trust in their money and not on the values the Founding Fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence: we are endowed by our Creator with "certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Has America's "pursuit of happiness" turned into the pursuit of the next best thing? America's view of what happiness is has changed radically from what the Founding Fathers believed. They believed that the pursuit of happiness was the practice of virtue, but Americans' view of happiness is the acquiring of possessions.

The Founding Fathers were in a difficult position when they first wrote the Declaration of Independence. They were risking their lives by breaking from the monarchy of their mother country. However, they believed that their cause was worth fighting and dying for. By writing the Declaration, they were instilling in the colonists the basic rights of humanity. As Jefferson said, their desire was to "place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and

firm as to command their assent.” These basic rights were, of course, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By pursuit of happiness, did they mean pursuing whatever makes us happy? Not exactly. Upon further exploration, it is clear that their view of happiness is quite different from ours. "The order of nature," wrote Jefferson, "is that individual happiness shall be inseparable from the practice of virtue." George Washington said something similar: "There exists...an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness.” The Founding Fathers believed that virtue and happiness went hand in hand, and the key to happiness was being a virtuous, or “good”, person. By being virtuous, one can live in harmony with the community around him and therefore feel happy and safe. This was the dream of the Founding Fathers: for our nation to be a nation of virtue, so that we do not have to live in vice or fear.

Our views on happiness, however, have been skewed. The mindset of America now is that happiness comes as a result of what we possess and not from something greater than ourselves. We tend to pursue possessions, believing they will make us happy, but they ultimately will not. Colson explains in The Good Life: "We want instant gratification. These temptations pull hard on us in this consumerist era in which the good life is constantly portrayed in terms of possessions and goods." However, he says, "A growing body of data points to the conclusion that the amount of money accumulated...has no impact on our happiness." Colson also points out that we cannot take our earthly possessions with us when we die, which almost every Christian is aware of, but that does not prevent Americans, even believing Americans, from pursuing a hedonist lifestyle. That is because our consumer culture is pushing on us, pressuring us to buy and spend. We listen to the voice of society and not the voice of God, which leads us down a pleasure-seeking path. Matthew 16:26 says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Paul says in Romans, “Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes

in what he sees?" (8:24b, ESV) The Bible, the ultimate truth, points toward unseen hope, meaning we should not rely on what we own to save us when we die.

The Founding Fathers' belief that happiness comes as a result of virtue is at odds with America's current consumer culture. We are racing to accumulate more, when the Founding Fathers envisioned us racing to be better people. Our focus is on stock market tickers and price tags, not on our God. But just because our nation's focus has turned toward transient things does not mean it is hopeless. We should turn back to the truth our Founding Fathers sought: the truth that every man is equal and has been given rights by his God that cannot be reversed. If we want to be happy, we should put others and God before our desires. Only then will we truly be pursuing happiness.

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