The “Happy” in “Happy Independence Day”

The commentary is from a year ago, and the poem was written so long ago that we were still flying Space Shuttles. But the feeling is quite sincere, and I’ve had much reason to put the skill discussed below to use.
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I hope that each and every one of you is having a happy Fourth of July. The “happy” part of that is significant, and I sincerely hope that you have the skill and the circumstances to achieve it.Skill? Yes. Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote one of the most oft-quoted lines in history describing unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Someone suggested to me today that:

Happiness is a thing based on the circumstances we are in. Good circumstances=happy, bad circumstances=unhappy.

I disagreed. (And later, the commenter pretty much agreed with my objection, which is posted below.)

Happiness is a learned skill. To describe it as as merely the result of circumstances would be like saying a person is a skilled carpenter simply because he lives in a neighborhood of well-built homes.

Look at even recent history, and the number of people who have been so desperately unhappy that they took their own lives — despite living in comparative luxury and in circumstances that billions around the world would fight and die for, and would take minor issues in stride.

What killed these people — the teenager despondent over acne, the wealthy man who had a deal go bad, the actor without work despite a great body of success and money in the bank? (Let’s set aside the cases of actual cognitive impairment, such as Robin Williams’ Lewy Body Disorder.)

These people did not die from circumstances; they were led to kill themselves from the lack of sufficient skill to handle the circumstances they were in. Have you ever seen someone of very modest means, even in dire straits, who was nevertheless happy? Of course. Yet that person’s circumstances would dictate otherwise were the hypothesis correct. And successful (or particularly wealthy-through-inheritance) people being unhappy is so common it is a cliché.

Circumstances can be so bad as to interfere with happiness. Of course, death does this, but injury or illness or loss can require extraordinary skill to remain happy, and few have such skill. Cognitive impairment, like Williams above, can take away whatever skill you had already developed and leave you without defenses.

But happiness, as Jefferson knew, is a very good thing, not an “affliction” as mentioned upthread here. (He knew better; he wished that “affliction” upon Citizen Tom in good faith.)

Jefferson used “the pursuit of Happiness” as a shorthand catch-all for those things a person can do once they’ve attained some skill at it, and those things are inherent rights and not to be infringed upon. Don’t disparage it, and don’t sell yourself short. You can be as happy as you decide to be, if you follow up on that decision by seeking and acquiring the skills involved.

During the past year [ed: two years now], I have had to refine my own skills in this area, but I have been successful at this [ed: with more work to do here]. My level of happiness cannot be merely a product of my circumstances, or I’d have been long gone [ed: even more true this past year].

Best wishes for your celebration of Independence Day, and your pursuit of happiness.

On the celebration of Independence Day itself, I wrote this some time back, and it still holds true for me:

The Independence Journey

Tomorrow I travel
Across this great land
And try to unravel
How all this began

I look to the mountains
And gaze at the sea
Are these where the fountains
Of freedom might be?

The fields full of crops
The deep sylvan glade
The bustling shops
Where the future is made

The skyscrapers soaring
The bridges, the ships
The Space-X craft roaring
On million-mile trips

But harvest, invention,
Our tools and our crafts
Are not the intention
Contained in those drafts…

“United States” seems
Like a common phrase now
But once it was dreams
Born from deep thinking brow

As the Founders grew weary
Of rough distant rule
And taxes and tariffs
Provided the fuel…

Independence declared!
Hear the bell as it rings!
That proud history shared
Isn’t based on mere “things”

The new nation caught
And flamed bright in their hearts
And though doubters still thought
That such disparate parts

Could never be coached
Or formed into one
Still ideas, once they’re broached
Sometimes see the job done

Through blood and through sweat
And through fear, war and strife
They struggled, and yet
Freedom loved, more than life

So they crafted a code
That gave people a voice
That gave promise to all
And the world, a new choice

By the people’s consent
A Republic was born
And with blood sorely spent
Broke the shackles we’d worn

Then we prospered and grew
In this fair rugged land
And to build straight and true
All the folks lent a hand

The foundation they laid
Is a strong, steady place
And the price that they paid
Gave us strength, hope, and grace

And still our Constitution
Guides the Land of the Free
And provides the solution
That made all of this be

And at last I can see
How our strength came about
Founders fought to be free
With hearts noble and stout

And they carried the day
And they brought it to us!
And we now, in our way
Undertake this great trust

For Americans make
Our America great
So I’ll pause and I’ll take
One more moment to state:

My dear friends reading here
Don’t forget where you are
We’ll defeat hate and fear
And we yet will go far

We each have work to do
(Not just do, but know why)
Now, to each one of you
Happy Fourth of July!