Vail Daily column: What are we chasing? | VailDaily.com
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Vail Daily column: What are we chasing?

Don Rogers
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

The pursuit of happiness not only is written in our Declaration of Independence, but also in our DNA.

I believe this. I see it all around me. All these folks chasing happiness. All this yearning for the thing. All this disappointment at not catching it yet. Me, too.

I also imagine leprechauns rolling on the ground, holding their bellies, they’re laughing so hard. They know something we don’t: Happiness is not a thing you can chase.

The modern American Dream is based on materiality, a reflection of our scientific mindset. But much research, speaking of the scientific method, declares the end of the rainbow won’t be found in the tangibles of wealth, status or fame.

Uh, huh. Those of us outside the 1 percent or the 10 percent would like to discover this for ourselves, thank you very much. None of those attainments seem to hurt the pursuit, after all. We’d rather be unhappy rich than unhappy poor. Right?

The scholars of happiness point in more esoteric directions. Long-term satisfaction comes from companionship, a purpose higher than yourself, contemplation of the divine, a roof over your head, fire in the hearth. Oh, and giving to others. Lots and lots of giving.

Mom will tell you it’s all about health. Getting enough sleep, exercise, good food. Have those and you have everything you need, really. The rest is just icing.

And the geneticist will say all of the above is fine, but the root rests in your genetic set point. You can play at the fringes, but you are hardwired for optimism or gloom. Blessed or cursed by genes, the lottery of life, at the outset. You are what you are. It is what it is, akin to gravity. You’re just naturally happy, or not.

But should happiness even be our pursuit in life? I mean, I’d rather be happy than not, of course. I just wonder if we were born to focus on something so ineffable, so ephemeral, as imaginary as leprechauns and gold pots at the end of rainbows. The quest seems, well, self-absorbed, even selfish.

I suspect the pursuit of happiness is beside the point, perhaps even a trap, a cage that’s all the worse if gilded. Self-satisfaction just doesn’t seem like such a great goal to me.

Consider pain’s place. People don’t run because it hurts. Don’t study because of the effort. Don’t read, don’t write, don’t this, don’t that because there’s pain involved. By pain, I mean the barriers we put up for ourselves, large and small, real and imagined. We don’t really like to do the work, basically.

Now, I’m talking about the good pain from building muscle, wind, will power, patience, discipline. The building blocks for fitness, skill, success, wisdom. None of these may make you happy, by the way.

Yes, there’s the other pain, the stuff we should avoid or heal from if we can, deal with if not. Illness, heartache, depression, paralysis, abuse, trauma, loss, all that. Some of the kindest, happiest people you’ll ever meet have struggled with these. Isn’t that interesting?

It may be that we read the Declaration of Independence wrong. The spirit of the document is all about freedom, after all. The authors didn’t say we have an inalienable right to achieve happiness, only to pursue it. It’s left to us to choose our path.

Leo Tolstoy, no doubt weary of all the yakking and yearning for happiness in his circles, put it this way: “If you want to be happy, be.”

Too pat, maybe. Still, I like it. Decide already. After all, happiness is a state of being, how you go about your pursuits.

It’s the rainbow, not the pot of gold.

Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.

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