Monday, December 13, 2010

It’s Not Happiness or Its Pursuit

I see this picture of my grandson Cameron, and I melt. I feel and have felt a great joy with this child, one that continues to surprise me. The introverted writerly type who’d rather be upstairs writing or reading a book is helpless in the hands of his grandson.

This child puts joy in my heart. I can rejoice daily as to what God has created here, and the blessing he has given me, my wife and my family.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. He was edited, to be sure. (How am I sure, you ask? Because so many of the signers were lawyers, that’s how. Lawyers can’t leave anything written alone.) Whether Jefferson came up with the phrase or had it edited for or suggested to him, there is an idea embedded in the Declaration that we somehow think is taken straight from the Bible:

“We hold these truths 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.”

My biggest problem here is the third “unalienable right,” although to be fair, it’s not a simple “right to happiness” but “the pursuit of happiness.” And I’m sure the idea of happiness had some slightly different meaning then than now. But happiness as a goal – or a right conferred by my Creator – is, I think, wrong. It’s a fleeting thing, this happiness we chase, and we can somehow manage to justify all manners of bad behavior as we pursue it. Yes, I know Thomas Jefferson said we could, but that still doesn’t make it right or admirable.

We yearn for something that we understand as happiness, some hole at the center of our soul that we know will be filled with the right car or house or piece of jewelry or boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife or vacation or income level or college degree or hairstyle or wardrobe or achievement. And if we get what we absolutely know will make us happy, we discover something – the hole is still there. Happiness is ephemeral,  a piece of gossamer, a mist that disperses as soon as we touch it.

My grandson, I’ve learned, doesn’t make me happy. He makes me thankful for receiving such a blessing. He makes me more loving because he pulls love out of me (rather effortlessly on his part, too). And he makes me rejoice, because he has added more joy to my life.

To rejoice is to understand and to acknowledge that I am not the center of my life; I am not what my life is all about. I’m part of something larger, something I can only gain the merest glimpse of, but enough to know that it is there and it is huge.

I look at my grandson, and I ask, what is it about this child that makes me smile? It’s not because he holds a piece of me in his DNA, and that somehow through him I will live forever. I think that it’s more that he’s a symbol, a symbol of hope, a reminder of another baby that brought hope to the world and all generations.

And for that hope, I truly do rejoice.

To see more posts on “rejoice,” visit the One Word Blog Carnival, hosted by Peter Pollock (and Bridget Chumbley, who’s on sabbatical). The links will be live after 9:30 p.m. central time tonight.

Photograph of Cameron Young by Stephanie Young. Cameron said it was OK to use it.


Unknown said...

Such beautiful true words and your grandson is almost as cute as my granddaughter :)

Maureen said...

One can choke up reading this. I did.

S. Etole said...

It is difficult to read when your eyes keep returning to the photo!

Anonymous said...

did he write something? i didn't notice.

Peter P said...

Great post, Glynn.

Have you read "Desiring God" by John Piper? If I'm remembering correctly, he actually says a lot about the pursuit of Happiness - and how it's a good thing when you understand what happiness is!

How did you get your link on the carnival so quickly, by the way?

I clicked the 'publish' button then opened the page to look at it myself and your link was already there!

katdish said...

Cameron's a cutie.

I think folks mistake the pursuit of happiness with the right to happiness. You're right. It's fleeting and temporary. Joy's different. We can choose joy even in the midst of sad times. Great post, as always Mr. Glynn.

Candy said...

Your grandson is adorable, Glynn. I can see where he would magnify any joy in your heart. I'm feeling that same heart-tugging, and our little peanut is still a bun in the oven! You're so right, they represent hope in a big way. I'm rejoicing with you today.

dosh said...

'To rejoice is to understand and to acknowledge that I am not the center of my life' Wow! I've never looked at it like that...
Your grandson is really cute

Fatha Frank said...


I see pictures of my kids and I smile and melt a little. I try and get my son to sit and do his homework and whatever joy I had is wiped away. I heard once that happiness is based on what happens. That's true. Joy is based on the eternal. Children represent that- hope for the future.

SimplyDarlene said...

We can pursue it
but we nary
catch it.

Unless to His hands
we reach to
grasp it.

As always, your words sing. And kiss those bare baby toes a time or two for me!


David Rupert said...

Glynn...great analysis on Jefferson's words. We tend to think that happiness is some sort of right and that causes people to do all kinds of ungodly thinks in 'pursuit' of such a write.

Your grandson brings it all home.

Lisa notes... said...

So glad that we are part of something larger. I love how you phrased this:
“He makes me more loving because he pulls love out of me.”
Very aptly said.

Thanks for sharing this, Glynn. Inspirational as always. And your grandson is a cutie. I look forward to that in a few years too.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

So good, Glynn. People can't make us happy just like they can't make us angry, bitter, etc. That thankfulness is what keeps us in the right place and perspective. Great post. Thank you.

a joyful noise said...

Interesting Post and I did enjoy your mentioning the Pursuit and not the right to Happiness. Caused me to think!! We may actually miss joy in our pursuit, unless we take the time to savor the moment and enjoy our family and sweet grandchildren.

Beachanny said...

I am not arguing your point but what I have always felt the phrase "pursuit of happiness" meant (in Jefferson's terms) was the ability to chase and realize your dream, your aspirations. I believe it comes down to the argument between free will and fate written. Every writer, one of my literary profs told us, has to initially come to grips with his world view and it will boil down to Pelagianism or Augustinianism (ok not sure of spellings) again about tabula rosa..or original sin. Are we fated to live a particular way; or are we free to choose and Jefferson believed this as he also held the commoners view in the French revolution. He thought that God gave us free will and the state had no right whatsoever to rescind it.

Not saying I believe that necessarily; but I will say in the course of my life I have given it an inordinate amount of thought and tried to perceive the Creator through that filter.

I know this wasn't up for oneshot but it intrigued me and I felt compelled to comment. Hope it's OK.

Anonymous said...

your words are brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Happy Wednesday!
Welcome link in a poem to our potluck today.
Your talent rocks…
Keep sharing, stay blessed…

Brock S. Henning said...

Thanks, Glynn. We sure want it all right now, don't we? Our hearts long for happiness and paradise because we're destined for it...the tough part is we can't have it all yet.

And I like the message of hope you felt through your grandson. It's that longing that will one day be fulfilled. I rejoice for the blessings like babies, our families, our friends, and God's promises.

Beth said...

I could really relate to this, Glenn. I have 5 grandchildren and another due in Feb. Each child sees life uniquely and has opened up my eyes, heart, and mind in a positive, joyful manner.
The youngest is especially dear to me, because as he is free of television, he is discovering a world that the others are not nearly atuned to which, I think, is their loss. He educates me the most.
I enjoyed this post and the message.