2014-10-21 – Don’t know if Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase “the pursuit of happiness,” but he surely made it popular when he included it in the Declaration of Independence:
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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Not only did he say that the pursuit of happiness is an “unalienable Right,” but he declared that Happiness is a proper goal of government.
Many people have noted that pursuing happiness is not the most effective way to BE happy. You pursue, or chase after, happiness if you think you don’t have it. But if you think that way, you’re likely to find happiness to be a receding goal. The more you chase after it, the less happy you are.
It is this type of pursuit that is so pervasive in our culture. Chasing without ever catching. It reminds me of my dog Lefty. Whenever a car or a bike or another animal comes within his view, he gives chase. But he doesn’t get very far. He’s on a leash. So he is perpetually frustrated.
But he is happy when he is inside, with no car or bike or animal anywhere near him. And he rolls around on the floor and sleeps. Food magically appears to satisfy his wishes.
Pursuit doesn’t always mean chase.
Pursuit can also mean simply “an activity,” as in the phrase “writing is my life’s pursuit.” So perhaps “pursuit of Happiness” could mean that we have an inalienable right to be undisturbed in our life’s happiness, with no chase involved.
I am calling this the “purfuit of Happinefs.”
This is what I imagined that Thomas Jefferson actually wrote in the Declaration of Independence, where many S’s are elongated to look like F’s.
And I decided that the word “purfuit” was from the Latin “pur” for “pure,” and “fuit,” which is the third-person past tense form of “sum,” meaning “I am.” As in “cogito ergo sum”—“I think, therefore, I am.” So therefore the word “purfuit” has to do with “pure being.”
That’s all bullfuit, of course. If you check images of the Declaration of Independence, you learn that Jefferson spelled it with a small S (he did, however, use one elongated S in “Happinefs). And since there is no such word as “purfuit,” there is no etymology for the word either.
I asked Lefty what he thought about all this. His response?