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Choose Joy

By Kenda-Ruth Stumpf

Thomas Jefferson wrote that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right. Such a pursuit seems logical--perhaps even a self-evident truth. Who among us does not desire happiness? But what is happiness? Is it chocolate, sex, clowns and carnivals? Is it synonymous with joy or bliss, or merely related?

As we use it today, happiness is a general term used to describe a range of feelings and emotions from carnal to divine pleasures; it can be either superficial and thus fleeting or deep and lasting, the latter is a product of maturity and development. Jefferson's words created a culture of happiness seekers intent on happiness with out understanding it, who thus cease their search upon the attainment of its initial, superficial levels. Such persons are thereby disillusioned when their happiness fades. The problem is that happiness has become the goal. The greater unalienable right is a pursuit of meaning; happiness is a byproduct of such an endeavour.

But does the word happiness mean? Happen, haphazard, hapless, happy and happiness all come from the same root word, hap, which means luck or chance. Happen means that something will occur or come to pass--originally by hap (chance or luck). Haphazard describes something that has a chance for danger, and hapless means unfortunate--the absence of luck. From the form of the word, it seems logical that happy was the adjectorial form of hap. Happiness is a form of happy used as a noun meaning a state of being happy. Hap is a noun which indicates an external action. Luck or chance is not within an individual's control, but rather it happens to someone and is fleeting.

In these terms, Jefferson was declaring that the pursuit of chance is an unalienable right. To be fair, his connotation for the word happiness was likely the same as we use it today. But does the pursuit of chance or provide meaning? Happiness and luck are something to pursue or more accurately something which comes upon--something which happens to someone. Joy is a feeling of pleasure and delight, from the Latin gaudia; but it is not merely a feeling--a rational assessment of value--it is also an emotion because it enthuses a person with positive energy.

Consider that for a moment. Joy enthuses a person with positive energy--positive emotion. Enthuse is a form of the word enthusiasm which comes from the Greek for enthousiasmos meaning to be inspired which originates from entheos en- in + theos god. Enthusiasm is a feeling of divine inspiration or possession--to be filled with God. Joy is a vehicle toward enthusiasm, but most importantly joy is a choice. Happiness is a passive and ephemeral action which happens to someone, whereas joy is self-created.

I'm Kenda-Ruth and I believe in marriage.
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