In 1690, John Locke published An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in which he wrote “the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness”. This philosophy was incorporated by the writers of the United States’ Declaration of Independence and described as an “inherent right” of all.
And yet, it seems to me that our country is filled with those who have lost their will to pursue happiness. Some have been crushed for so long that they accept that their lot in life is to suffer in misery or to endure in complacency. Many turn to substances to drown out the voices of defeat. Others chase ghosts, thinking they see the answer, only to find themselves against the wall at the end of the road.
But happiness is real. Joy can be found.
I had joy as a child. Then I lost it. It slipped away from my youthful fingers, caught in the torrent of the river of my life, tossed out of reach, flung round the bend and out of my sight. I thought I could catch it, and at times my hands would scrabble for a purchase and a glimpse of happiness would flash its brilliant smile, only to be snatched away in an instant. I tried to suppress my desire for joy. This was my lot, I told myself. I willed myself, the accidental martyr, to bear the pain, swallow the tears, empty my heart, become a stone.
But I could not.
I could not give up Joy.
I knew what it was. Joy. Happiness. I knew it as a child’s laughter. A mountain trail with my father in lead. The smell of baked bread on a Friday. A leap from the bank of the river. The smell of mud on my feet. Sweet corn over my head. Strawberries in my mouth.
I knew what I had lost. And I knew that I could not live without it.
I have lain on a floor with a knife to my throat. I have been humiliated and spit upon in full view of strangers. I have been pushed and prodded to the brink of breaking. I have watched from afar as my body was beaten. I’ve felt the hands of the demons who’ve reached for my soul.
But I never forgot Joy.
One day I made a choice. I pushed through the invisible barrier that shrouded me in Oppression and I leaped from the cliff into the great unknown. I didn’t know where I would land. But I knew that I could no longer live without Joy.
I began to live, to rebuild.
I was given a vision. I was shown a life filled with sunlight and song, laughter and love. The details were fuzzy, but the joy was unmistakable. I knew that I was being offered a precious gift, and I leapt with both feet.
I know what Joy is. It is the warm smile of a woman. It is a playful puppy. It is a wriggling dog. It is the hand in mine. It is the song that I sing to a harmony of hers. It is the laughter of a child. It is pain and enduring and knowing that we will come through together. It is knowing who I am and being unashamed.
Do you know Joy? Do you pursue Happiness? If you have stumbled or been caught in a snare, I offer my encouragement. Listen for my shouting. You can hear me, cheering you on. You have been granted the unalienable right to pursue your happiness. I believe it is your duty to find it.