We’re coming up on the Fourth of July — Independence Day in the United States. So, it seems appropriate to write a bit about that word, “pursuit”, and it’s connection to the mission of The Pursuit newsletter and Commonly Well.
As you likely know, during the summer of 1776, Thomas Jefferson was tasked to draft a Declaration of Independence to be sent to the King of England. With his slave attendant, Robert Hemings, by his side, Jefferson penned:
“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”
– Thomas Jefferson
This phrase indicates that Life and Liberty are immediately and completely guaranteed. Being happy in your liberty and your life … well, that’s not how life nor liberty works.
One must work and engage in good works to be happy.
What is guaranteed is one’s opportunity to pursue the things that bring a person happiness.
In the quest for other markers of a successful life — education, career, house, family — we lose sight of the elemental processes that build up a happy life.
There are many tangents and critiques of happiness. My ask is that you suspend those for now.
Let me just leave you with two more notes about this date in history and what Jefferson believed defined the pursuit of happiness.
July 2 is when history was really made.
The original draft of the Declaration was presented on July 2 and a vote on Independence passed. If you’re a Brit at the time, this was tantamount to treason and these men knew it, no matter how secret the action may have been.
But, not everyone liked the strong condemnations of slavery and many found Jefferson’s prose to be … high … shall we say. So there were edits. The final version was ratified and adopted on July 4.
John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3 and pronounced that July 2 “will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.”
Not quite, but go ahead and show Adams some love today.
The official version that you see with all the signatures, well the last ones weren’t affixed until August.
If you are so inclined, begin your holiday celebrations today — it’s completely warranted.
Be rounded in your interests
If you look at the totality of Jefferson’s life, you see a person with wide interests. He was trained as a lawyer. He learned land surveying from his father as a young teen. He immersed himself in architecture and agriculture. He was a very good violinist. He studied French culinary practices and food. He read and wrote ferociously. He walked for exercise every day.
Jefferson believed that committing to these pursuits of learning, culture, production, and activity brought meaning, purpose, and happiness to his life.
What is it for you? Where do you commit your time, energy, attention, and desires? You should have many interests. When you find those engagements that bring you joy, stay with them, they will reward you.
Go forth in your interests. Celebrate the principles of the Declaration. This is The Pursuit.
Until next time … be well.
I know a retelling of this history of 56 white men, most slave owners, forming a country on land originating with native Indians during the time of Black Lives Matter seems jarring and maybe not right.
But ponder for a moment the base principle set forth by Jefferson, that all men (humans) are created equal with certain rights from their creator. Despite the contradictions between Jefferson’s life and times, those words are the goal. Jefferson knew that getting there would be a pursuit of its own. We must commit, in the way that we can during our time, to that goal.
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