Meaning of American Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is one of our unalienable rights, which means that we’re stuck with it. Think of it as our mutual responsibility in American society, because that’s what the founders meant.

The Founders’ Common Sense

“Some writers have so confounded society with government,” Thomas Paine said in Common Sense, which spread like wildfire in the American colonies at the beginning of 1776. In July, wanting to avoid the same mistake that Paine highlighted, Thomas Jefferson backed his claim in the Declaration of Independence by explicitly writing “happiness” twice – to describe the purpose of individuals in society and government, respectively.

But a related problem was highlighted nearly 200 years after America’s revolutionary Declaration. “Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued,” said Dr. Viktor Frankl, explaining Man’s Search for Meaning. “It must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Meaning of Life in America

What it all comes down to is our responsibility in American society, for each of us to discover respective causes to which we dedicate our lives or people to whom we surrender ourselves completely.

Concerning the American government’s mission, not only is it the president’s responsibility to make effective recommendations to Congress for action to preserve, protect, and defend society through security, which Common Sense says is “the true design and end of government.” The nation’s chief executive also needs to judge it as necessary and expedient that society has the security conditions, or safety, to pursue happiness at maximum potential.

It’s expected for Americans to grumble for better.


Eric Foner, ed., Thomas Paine: Collected Writings (New York: Library of America, 1995).

Pauline Maier, introduction to The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States (New York: Bantam, 1998).

Garry Wills, Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (New York: First Mariner, 2002).

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006).


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