The phrase "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence comes from the Greek word, "eudaimonia" and is better translated as "well-being" or, best, "flourishing." You achieve this through "arete" or "excellence." This of course raises the question, what is excellence?
Being the best you can be. Developing to the fullest what you are good at. And it should go without saying that it takes some work and discipline to develop that talent.
I've known people who could play the guitar at five years old. They became musicians. I had a girlfriend who would shinny up lightpoles at five and sit on top waving to cars (believe it or not, her parents got used to finding her twenty feet up). She became an almost professional-quality athlete, who used to regularly beat me at miniature golf, although I stomped her at slotcars.
As Vince Lombardi once said, "The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor."
Or as Brett Stevens wrote: "We are concerned with the best possible life, and the best in life, not the utilitarian 'that’ll do' that marks empires on their way downward. We aspire, not do what is merely adequate."
The past gives us some ideas on how to achieve excellence and happiness: the Four Cardinal Virtues. Prudence, justice, restraint (self-control), and courage.
Most people think these virtues (virtue means "powers of man") are Christian. They are, but the ideas run back to the Greeks. (As an aside, arete is often translated as "virtue.")
The Four Cardinal Virtues are not what most people think they are. Justice and Courage sound like good things; Prudence and Temperance, don’t, not really, to many people. The idea that many people have of them, they sound like they take a lot of the fun out of life. But in reality they are good things. It’s just that most people don’t understand the correct definitions.
Prudence is correctly defined as "using reason to discover the laws that govern reality." That’s it. It’s not just theoretical knowledge; it’s also practical knowledge - putting what you know into effect.
Temperance just means not letting the bad aspects of our personalities control us - greed, gluttony, envy, lust, pride, ennui. Again, basically, that’s it.
People often show what they are good at by the time they are five.
This is why schools shouldn't try to produce standardized products (except for reading, writing, and arithmetic) and should concentrate on developing inherent talents. They're really good at this when it comes to athletics but otherwise, no.
In 1960, journalist Gordon Young asked Carl Jung, “What do you consider to be more or less basic factors making for happiness in the human mind?” Jung answered with five things:
1. Good physical and mental health.
2. Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
3. The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
4. Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
5. A philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life.
Jung, always mindful of paradox, added, “All factors which are generally assumed to make for happiness can, under certain circumstances, produce the contrary. No matter how ideal your situation may be, it does not necessarily guarantee happiness.”
Jung's caution is why the Declaration says "pursuit of happiness" and not "guarantee of happiness."
The United States was originally founded on political and economic liberty, and what that produced was the best country on Earth. Freedom and liberty contribute the best to "reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work." Unfortunately it's been downhill in the country for a long time, and in some very noticeable ways it's getting worse.
The more the State grows, the worse it is for everyone.
In fact, almost all of Jung's five keys to happiness are under attack by the State. Marriage and the relationships between men and women are under attack, and have been for a long time. If they weren't under attack, 49% of the people in this country wouldn't be single.
The government in the United States has become a behemoth, which means our liberty and freedom grows less and less every day. I don't know if it can be reversed or not. But if it's not reversed, the flourishing and well-being of people will grow less or less every day.
Things have gotten so bad some people I know have dropped out. I know people who have moved into rural areas, simplified their standard of living, and homeschool their kids.
The ultimate purpose of education is to develop your talents. As Alfred North Whitehead wrote in The Aims of Education, "Culture is activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling. Scraps of information have nothing to do with it. A merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth. What we should aim at producing is men who possess both culture and expert knowledge in some special direction."
Our culture is being destroyed by our own "government." It's becoming harder and harder to flourish and pursue well-being, to be excellent (and powerful) at what you have chosen to do.
Not when the government has crushed the economy, poisoned the relationships between men and women and attempted to destroy religion and the culture.