I recently listened to an interview of a business consultant who said that he blames Thomas Jefferson for many of the problems in the United States, because Jefferson was the one who came up with the phrase in the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The consultant said that he had no problem with the life and liberty part of the phrase, but that Jefferson’s use of the words “pursuit of happiness” was a mistake.
The consultant justified his position by stating that if you’re pursuing happiness, there’s a presumption that you have not yet achieved happiness. He said that Jefferson should have used the phrase, “the enhancement of happiness.” Why? Because if you’re enhancing happiness, there’s a presumption that you’re already happy and that you are focused on achieving greater happiness.
The true meaning behind Thomas Jefferson’s reference to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was that men and women have the God-given right to the freedom to choose how they want to live their lives. Because of their God-given rights, no government has the right to force them to live their lives the way the government wants them to live.
While the consultant provided some food for thought concerning happiness, he failed to mention that people have their own beliefs about what happiness is, and regardless of their beliefs, no one is ever happy 100 percent of the time. While it may be worthwhile to have a goal to be happy all the time, such a goal is unachievable. The best we can do is adjust the way we think and behave so we can achieve happiness most of the time.
Is there a code of conduct that people can use to achieve happiness?
The closest thing that we have for a code of conduct for happiness was given to us by our Savior and His church. We know from the teachings of the Catholic Church that we were created to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him in Heaven for all eternity.
As a perfect man, Jesus followed God’s plan without complaint and without deviating from the plan. Yet despite His perfection, even our Lord wasn’t happy all the time.
We know from the New Testament that there were situations when Jesus was unhappy, most notably those instances when people were not following the commandments that had been handed down to them by God. And, of course, we know that from the time of His agony in the Garden until the moment of His death on the cross, he endured tremendous suffering.
The code of conduct that was left for us by our Lord and His church includes the virtues that have always been taught and promoted by the Catholic Church and other Christian religions. Until the 1960s, that code of conduct was followed by a majority of Americans and included the adoption and practice of certain virtues, such as faith, hope, charity, honesty, kindness, humility, courage, purity, chastity, forgiveness, gratitude, self-discipline, diligence, patience, prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice.
Most of those virtues are no longer taught to the majority of our youth in the United States, which has helped to bring about the breakdown of the family and, by extension, our culture. Something is gravely wrong when our young students are well versed in climate change and gender identity issues, but know nothing about the virtues.
Even those of us who are devout Catholics don’t give much thought to incorporating and practicing the virtues in our daily lives. How much thought have you given lately to the importance and impact of the virtues on your life?
If I were to ask you what the five most important virtues are, what would you say?
Can you come up with a list in your head right now?
What’s the most important of all the virtues?
The number one virtue is, without a doubt, the virtue of humility. In her book The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “…but it remains for us to become detached from our own selves, and it is a hard thing to withdraw from ourselves and oppose ourselves because we are very close to ourselves and love ourselves very dearly… It is here that true humility can enter.”
It was the Son of God Himself who set an example of humility for us. He relinquished His power and glory by coming to Earth as a helpless human being. He was born to a poor and humble couple in a stable surrounded by animals. As an adult, He humbly submitted Himself to the authority of inferior men who mocked Him, brutally tortured Him, and then nailed Him to a cross, so He could die an ignominious death.
Our Lord said, “Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you and learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.” Matthew 11:28-30.
In addition to the virtue of humility, a strong argument can be made that the virtues of charity and forgiveness should be included in the top five virtues. All three of these virtues — humility, charity and forgiveness — are what I call foundational virtues that must be in place before a person can come as close as possible to a life of complete happiness.
Last week, I wrote about the virtue of self-denial. In my opinion, self-denial should also be included in the list of the top five most important foundational virtues.
So, in my opinion, four of the top five foundational virtues are humility, charity, forgiveness, and self-denial. What virtue would you choose as the fifth?
We’re starting a new year and a new decade. We are now about to officially begin the 2020s. Are you willing to focus on making this new decade the one in which you will pray for and master the foundational virtues? I would strongly suggest that you seriously consider this one resolution as your resolution for the next decade.
Happy New Year!
I would put mercy, the central beatitude, and kindness, the central fruit of the spirit at the top of that list, too. Hoping your new year is filled with happiness, too.
Dan – I think you’re right about mercy, and I believe that kindness is a subset of mercy. Happy New Year!