We are free to try to be happy. What does that mean? What is the pursuit of happiness? When asked that, what kind of images does your mind conjure? Good times? Loving people? Money? Maybe all of the above?
Here’s the bigger question: do the things we pursue for happiness actually make us happy?
The 1960’s were a time of high ideals. There was a longing for social change. But the 1970’s showed little fruit for the hopes of the 60’s. In a post-Watergate, post-Vietnam America, Jackson Browne saw the ideals of the 60’s slipping away. He wrote about it in several songs, including his probably most well-known work, “Running on Empty”. But it’s in “The Pretender” that he nails down the lament for the lost idealism.
“The Pretender” sings a lament of a man who has lost his ideals. Instead of striving to reach the hopes he once had for the world around him, he’s striving to achieve success and happiness as he has seen others pursue happiness, and it’s left him empty.
This guy has settled down. He has set out to take care of himself in living a a quiet, comfortable life.
There are several phases we move through in life: the phase when we feel like no one can love us (which is puberty for most of us), the phase when we’re convinced Led Zeppelin is the greatest band there ever has been and ever will be (some of us refuse to leave that stage), the phase when we hope to be the kind of people who change the world. While we may be happy to see some of our life phases end, we long to hold on to that last phase… and when it passes, we’re a little ashamed. We kid ourselves that we could never make it happen. That there are actually more important things right in front of us… like striving for the legal tender. And we find ourselves singing along with the Pretender…
And there it is… we convince ourselves that the pursuit of happiness lies in those things that money can buy. And we pretend that we’re happy in that. We settle on the notion that fulfilling ourselves is the termination of our pursuit of happiness.
But there’s a discontent in our souls. The Pretender notes that discontent… and most of us who have lost ourselves in pursuing happiness through the legal tender have heard the moans of that discontent, too. We pretend those moans are something besides our own voices. But we are pretending.
It’s OK to be idealistic. Our nation was founded on high ideals. Those ideals were not visions that each citizen may be able to consume to his or her heart’s content. But, instead, those ideals were that a better society may come about… Those same ideals were echoed in the high hopes of the 60’s (pun intended). There’s something imprinted in each of us that hopes in those ideals, too–it’s the imprinted longing of the Divine… and it says this:
The pursuit of happiness isn’t realized in making ourselves happy. It’s realized in creating a better life for those around us.