The United States Declaration of Independence (a document which I have never quoted until today) states, "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."
The pursuit of happiness. It is, indeed, a right. An unalienable right. But I'm not so sure it's the premier pursuit in which to be entangled. Happiness is slippery. A bit unpredictable, too. Sometimes I'm feeling really happy one day and then I try to recreate that level of happiness by doing the same thing on a different day, and it doesn't work. I agree with Thomas Jefferson in his belief that happiness is a valuable pursuit. But I think most of us need a little help on the way to get there.
I'll tell you one route to happiness that doesn't work (though I keep trying and trying and expecting a different outcome). Pursuing perfection. It absolutely, fundamentally will not lead to happiness. At least not sustained happiness. Lately I've been in hot pursuit of the perfect organizational efficiency system at work. I thought that if I could just make the most optimal daily, weekly, and monthly calendars with all the necessary task lists mapped out for every day, I'd have my job figured out. I tried the same strategy at home.
It's not working. My optimization plan is falling apart across the board. I'm behind all the time and no closer to perfect. For example, I finished last week's book group book 15 minutes before my guests arrived. Not ideal. And a few days before that, I finished the sermon the same morning that I preached it. That's also out of character.
I'm extra irritated, too. Most especially with myself. This leads me to an obvious conclusion: I'm striving after the wrong things.
The Apostle Paul wrote about life's main pursuits in his letter to the Romans. The Christian church in Rome was trying to figure out a lot of different interpersonal dynamics. There were tensions. People were chasing after their own agendas.
Paul wrote them a letter and said, "Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding" (Romans 14:19).
Interesting. So Paul's words confirm it; I've definitely been pursuing the wrong things as of late. Paul says nothing about pursuing achievement, affection, affirmation, or affluence. He says "pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding."
The original language of Paul's letter was Greek. The Greek word for peace is "eirene" which means harmony, tranquility, exemption from rage. The Greek word for upbuilding is "oikodome" which means "the act of one who promotes another's growth in wisdom, happiness, and holiness." These have not been my top priorities. Promoting the well-being, happiness, and spiritual health of others? Not so much. Sorry about that, God; I was too busy with my task lists!
Perhaps the surest route to happiness is by following the path of Paul's advice: pursue peace and provide a spirit of encouragement for other people. I'm sure it's easier said than done. But it sounds like a solid strategy. I'm definitely adding to the "top priority" list for this week!