Lexical Investigations: Happiness


“The pursuit of Happiness” was thought to be an unalienable right by the writers of the US Declaration of Independence. However, in 1776, the definition of happiness evoked a different meaning than it does today. When the framers of this historic document wrote about “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” what exactly did they mean by “happiness”?

The term happiness comes from the Old Norse term happ meaning “luck” or “chance.” It’s also related to the Old English word hæpic meaning “equal.” While early senses of happiness dating from the 1500s are still very much in use, such as “good luck,” “success,” and “contentment,” Francis Hutcheson, an Irish reverend and philosopher pictured here, brought a new, more political interpretation of happiness to English speakers with his 1725 treatise An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue. His political philosophy: “that Action is best which accomplishes the greatest Happiness for the greatest Numbers; and that worst, which in like manner occasions Misery.” The popularity of Hutcheson’s philosophies helped tie the concepts of civic responsibility and happiness to one another in the minds of the great political thinkers of the 18th century, including the writers of the Declaration of Independence.

US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy explained this often forgotten sense of happiness in his 2005 lecture at the National Conference on Citizenship. Kennedy notes that while in modern times there is a “hedonistic component” to the definition of happiness, for the framers of the Declaration of Independence “happiness meant that feeling of self-worth and dignity you acquire by contributing to your community and to its civic life.” In the context of the Declaration of Independence, happiness was about an individual’s contribution to society rather than pursuits of self-gratification. While this sense has largely fallen out of use today, it’s important to keep these connotations of happiness mind when studying political documents from the 18th century.

Read our previous post about the word flair.


  1. Thu -  August 1, 2016 - 11:49 am

    I have commented on other posts, and only have interpretation of this whole comment conversation, and article. And I have opinion’s which may guide the way I live my life, but a lot of the people’s comment here redefine what they are looking at by self opinion, or add onto. What is meant, is what is meant. What you as a person think about it doesn’t change what it meant at all. So fine follow your countries rights, they seem to make sense, but do not extend those rights definition for self. Mainly just follow a moral compass in the effort of attainment to those right’s and at the least you will do less harm to fellow humanity. Pursuit of happiness is a right, but if your pursuit contradicts moral’s then it is a meaningless empty pursuit. It is hard to define emotion, in the same way terrorist define religious imparative to there pursuit, a person may define doing wrong to others as not indecent measure to there pursuit.

    • Charles -  August 7, 2016 - 1:51 am

      “Meaningless empty pursuit” ? If a Government tries to define this, America as I once knew it, is Doomed! A Capitalist society already dictates, a certain amount of self reliance. But, unless your work is your happiness, a person can drink whiskey if they choose. Wait the abolitionists said that was immoral, wait, we have “individual” rights! So don’t try this progressive wet dream on me! Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness did not mean you have the right to live freely and pursue only what someone else or the government decides is meaningful or empty. Legally, that is the only question, right? So is it legal for Fred to spend most of his free time dancing, drinking and chasing woman, yes. Is it immoral? to Jill yes, she is at home. But to Jenny, they danced all night! Morality, gives us these rights and it is the Governments place to ensure we don’t loose them by the Government taking them away for what they persieve as our best interest!

    • G -  August 24, 2016 - 8:26 pm

      It means the ownership of land. Nothing more or less.

      • Barney -  October 5, 2016 - 8:29 am

        I read that somewhere about four decades ago but can’t remember where or by who? Just know that it was a founding fathers definition. Remember at that time, everywhere but this country, all land was owned by the monarch and those living on it had to pay, to do so. Not here! You could own your own land free and clear.
        That was true happiness to all in this country.

  2. SparkyFlary -  April 4, 2016 - 1:09 am

    Suppose I got my music up real loud and disturbs everyone. It makes me happy, doesn’t kill anyone, and doesn’t intrude on people’s freedoms. I have the right to pursuit of happiness and to play my music real loud for hours on end. So then how does the government protect the other people’s happiness from my loud music? By calling the police for disturbng the peace of course. I wonder why they could do that? Could it be that the government actually works for all of us and not just a few? That’s interesting cause I thought I could be left alone to my own happiness but apparently not. By we the people in the declaration of independence I guess they meant everyone and not just a few or one.

    • Stuart -  April 17, 2016 - 3:45 am

      Your opening question answers itself; “I got my music up real load and disturb everyone.” It may make you ‘happy,’ but it is not ‘happiness’ in the sense originally used in the Declaration of Independence. It does intrude on other people’s freedoms; the right to privacy, to be left alone, to the quiet enjoyment of your home, to NOT be disturbed by the intrusive behavior of your neighbors.

      Freedom of speech or expression does NOT include the right to be loud and intrusive in your behavior. In a society of ordered liberties, your freedom ends when it intrudes on the rights of others, when your ‘pursuit of happiness’ denies those around you of their own.

    • cole -  April 27, 2016 - 12:24 pm


  3. ZG -  January 20, 2016 - 5:33 pm

    Having read Autobiograpghies by Jefferson and Franklin, there is no question as to the thinking of the founders.

    People are to be free and self governed.
    Jefferson once said: Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch.

    Many sources attribute the following to Ben Franklin:
    The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.
    - Benjamin Franklin

    Justice Kennedy’s suggestion is more than wrong minded, more likely he is simply rewriting history to align with wishful thinking.

    We all have the right to pursue the purchase of a Ferrari, but we are not entitled to succeed.
    We all have the right to pursue having a team of researchers provide 24/7 world class tailor fitted healthcare, but we are not entitled to any particular level of healthcare.

    People are forgetting what a “right”, is.

    • RC -  January 30, 2016 - 11:12 pm

      No everyone still knows what a “right” is!!!

      • RC -  January 30, 2016 - 11:16 pm

        A “right” is a natural state of being everyone has. It is basically your own law and able to do what you think it right and what you should do.

        • GB -  April 26, 2016 - 5:23 am


        • Thu -  August 1, 2016 - 11:31 am

          Yea your first sentence is a good, and then you sully it with your personal redefined interpretation of it. You have the right to try to be happy, and be free, and have life, the means in which you attain those is null of rights, that is when you should follow a moral compass to attain your happiness, not just what will work best. The right you define is self righteous.

          • =^.^= -  November 30, 2016 - 4:06 pm

            What amendment says “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”??

  4. Steven Blocker -  January 19, 2016 - 6:33 am

    Happiness is happiness, nothing more. It could be service to others, or service to country, or service to self, or all of the above. Justice Kennedy infers that happiness is service to the wishes of the government. I think what the founders meant by pursuit of happiness was that the government service the the wishes of the people. Justice Kennedy, king george would have wholeheartedly agreed with you.

    • Jean -  May 7, 2016 - 12:29 am

      King George was a good king

  5. Kaile Kronstedt -  December 5, 2015 - 6:27 pm

    You really need to list your sources and info about you so people know if this is the for real info needed. And at school, I was taught that you need sources of some sort and if it doesn’t it is probably not true facts so if anyone reads these comments don’t trust this blog because there is no sources or name of the author or even info about the author. I am trying to do a school project for class and this so called blog is downright stupid and needs more info. I’m not trying to sound mean but I honestly would not trust this blog for crap. You really need to list sources I’m just trying to help you so you know what to do next time. I hope you don’t hate me now what it’s the truth you need your sources you need info about you you can we need to know stuff all this, I am if we do not trust this I wouldn’t trust it even if there was sources. Because there is no info about the author! Just try a help you out. SO GET SOURCES AND AUTHOR INFO!!!

  6. Muktar -  March 7, 2015 - 3:54 pm


    • jenifer -  June 18, 2015 - 6:04 am

      heyy how you doing

    • Jus -  August 26, 2015 - 10:46 am


    • no -  October 27, 2015 - 7:34 am


  7. Tom -  January 8, 2015 - 10:19 am

    Pursuit of happiness is the complete detachment of everything connecting a human to the government. To sit quietly and not incur liability to the government because of time. The null set, a zero point, the limit of wealth redistribution, the ownership of your assets without paying for them over and over again. Very dangerous thoughts to the machine that we built to win WWII, and that we feed still.

    • jenifer -  June 18, 2015 - 6:05 am

      I need to ask you a question??????

  8. David Dixon -  August 13, 2014 - 12:09 pm

    The “pursuit of happiness”, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, relates to the inalienable, indefeasible, and perfect right of human beings to seek that which gives them personal gratification – whether it be through commerce, the acquisition of property, the building of wealth, the composition of music, or the charity disposed upon others. Jefferson’s usage, although clearly derived from Locke, goes far beyond the Lockean right to acquire property or create wealth – as has been latched onto by most who seek to interpret the phrase. It includes not only the right to pursue that which provides one with personal satisfaction, but also the right to simply be left alone – if that makes one happy.

    • Septime -  December 14, 2014 - 10:34 am

      AMEN!!!! Justice Anthony Kennedy is wrong!

      • Septime -  December 14, 2014 - 10:37 am

        Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country is completely false to the concepts and ideals of this country and our founding documents the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and the Bill of Rights!

        • Tallis -  January 1, 2015 - 6:49 pm

          That is an incredibly selfish way of looking at happiness. Yes, people should be able to do whatever makes them happy, and if contributing to their country does not make them happy, that is fine. But the country would not continue to prosper if some did not take time out to look after it and look after those less fortunate. If personal happiness is what you desire, then consider this: many out there would not be happy if others did not go out of their way to help them be so. None of our lives would be the way they are if some people did not work to make them that way. No country would function properly if it were not in their ideals to be selfless and give rather than take.

          • John Miller -  March 7, 2015 - 11:59 am

            Everyone here really doesn’t understand the colonial meaning of the phrase. Pursuit of happiness referred to the pursuit of holiness or godliness. It had nothing to do with personal pleasures. Our founders understood that morality and religion were required for a republic to succeed and in those times when someone pursued happiness it was a pursuit of that which is godly. Sadly, that’s something very few Americans do these days and will be the source of our nation’s demise.

          • Paul -  April 16, 2016 - 9:57 pm

            Sorry to burst your bubble, but selflessness doesn’t exist. What you are calling selfless…public office and charity…are rewards unto themselves; people who participate in them earn self-satisfaction.

          • Thu -  July 31, 2016 - 4:02 pm

            Paul, yea logical selflessness does not exist, but selffullness, if you just focus on that getting self gratification through helping other’s isn’t selfless, because you inadvertently prosper in self, your just letting your imperfect human brain justify doing less for other’s. The fact that the English definition of selflessness isn’t fully logical to describing prioritizing helping other, isn’t relevent to the message conveyed by the effort of selfless, it’s a moral, not logic, human’s weren’t responsible for setting the moral’s people today follow. Because those moral’s are selfless. And instill how to be as selfless as humanly possible. Human’s are far to fallible to define right and wrong on such a large scale with so much cause and effect. Our brains strive in logic, when it’s not logical to be what is proposed as a good person. If America had defined right in and wrong in this last year of happening, right would be helping ourselves, wrong would be helping other’s before ourselves. The only fact is we Human’s suck and some people gain no gratification through helping other’s, hence the moral code set by our creator’s, whoever they may be. So we can better try the best we can. America has morphed personal beliefs, and practices with governing responsibility, and unconsciously brought that logic into everyday attitude, treatment, and and perspective of other people. More so anyone not American, like you as an American should focus on America, no the government’s job is that, as a service. And the lack of moral awareness has cultivated this self serving bias attitude that creates thinking such as its important that selflessness is not humanly impossible. Well if a person doesn’t give a shit about other’s it is.

    • Mary -  January 23, 2015 - 6:30 pm

      I couldn’t have delivered a more perfect definition myself! That was absolutely fantastic and exactly what I’ve gotten from it. Nothing more; nothing less! The problem lies not in the wording – they simply made their point, made their point for all men, and then stated the point. I believe it is in the interpretations of ever so fallible man, that brings anything into question. Not the other way around. Is it so hard to believe there was good intent for all when it was written? Or that it was flawlessly written to keep hackers out? Or that the men who wrote this and the Constitution, were not just free thinkers, but men of position and intelligence who believed what they were declaring and were the pioneers of such forward thinking? Because today is full of double standards, I guess it would be hard. The intention is clear. People’s perceptions – not so much. Don’t fix what isn’t broke lest you break it. GREAT job!

    • Jake Wilde -  March 28, 2016 - 6:32 am

      The “pursuit of happiness” comes from Eudaimonia and Aristotle. Locke did have his own philosophy concerning happiness that is closely related, but the core ideas come from Aristotle and his “Happiness in accordance with virtue.”

    • JoAnn Leichliter -  July 2, 2016 - 10:40 am

      This concept brings the meaning of “pursuit” much closer to “calling,” or “vocation” or even “job,” rather than “chase after.” For instance, “His father wanted him to be a doctor, but he chose a different pursuit.” Very interesting and perceptive.

    • Thu -  July 31, 2016 - 12:05 pm

      Your completely right, but in regards to only on part of anything that is intended to be principal, you described the right to an effort at a desired outcome, while completely lacking thought as to what is not a inalienable right as to the mean used in that effort to produce that outcome, your post follows a very singular form of thought, which is not very useful to assertain the whole meaning of anything except mathematics maybe. So as it may right to pursue happiness regardless of the definition of happiness, it has nothing to do with it also being a right to do what ever produces that happiness. You come up with your statement by fully defining a statement without regards to the entire writing in which that statement lies. A statement is just a link in that chain which is the meaning. Also it would seem that someone who requires so much to attain that variable definition of happiness, usually unrealized to their self go far past the beginning of happiness almost in effort of perfect unreachable happiness. The American standard set today is one which sets a Perpetual goal at effort, without a effort at sustaining an achieved goal, only sustaining that effort, which creates no conclusive achievement, in turn unhappiness. So I would like to define my happiness as stated above more so as contentment, then whatever feels good to me. Sex feels good that doesn,t mean it’s your right to rape someone.

    • hellen -  December 3, 2014 - 10:31 am


  9. Helmut Hein -  July 4, 2014 - 7:49 am

    The world is messed up enough as it is. One of the major reasons the world is as messed up today is that words no longer have the meaning of the speaker, but rather the interpreter redefines them. I remember 40 plus years ago when a girl said “No” she meant maybe, and when she said “Maybe” she meant yes – at least that is what we young lads wanted to believe. Everyone can choose how they define their own happiness – but you CAN NOT redefine what the writers of the Declaration of Independence meant when they wrote it.

    • anonymous bibliophile -  March 11, 2015 - 11:27 pm

      Thank you for putting my thoughts into words. I couldn’t quite figure out how.

    • Thu -  July 31, 2016 - 12:07 pm

      People form thier ideology by self serving simplistic bias principals sometimes to often.

  10. Pharrell -  May 12, 2014 - 9:15 am

    im happy

    • DumbDumb321 -  August 18, 2014 - 6:48 pm


  11. Hilton -  March 10, 2014 - 4:22 am

    From Glenzo: “force people to act altruistically in a way that they alone think is altruistic”.

    Bravo! good insight. Happiness is obviously different things to different people. To a baby it might be the proximity of the warmth and smell of it’s mother, to a lover it might be the proximity of the warmth and smell of the partner.
    Basically, it arises from contentment and fulfilment of basic needs.
    According to the Beatles it was “a warm gun”.

  12. [...] Nancy Pelosi, just today, said she believes that Obamacare is what the founders had in mind when the wrote, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Nancy, you are wrong, completely wrong. In fact, Obamacare would be the opposite of their meaning of happiness.Yourprobably thinking I am an idiot because what else could happiness mean? Well, in old English it means luck or chance, as defined HERE. [...]

  13. Rebecca -  December 17, 2013 - 8:07 pm

    What I want to know is why do we change things that was fine or even better that it is now? Happiness is what we believe for different people it is different. One can be joy, life,and you, where there could be happy as in hurt, mad, and sad. What I am trying to say is that everyone has there own way of happy. No one should tell you how you feel if that’s what you really feel.

  14. Carb -  October 22, 2013 - 7:36 am

    1984. Change the dictionary, you change thought.
    Progressives are invading the dictionary and changing past history to suit them.

    • yo mama -  October 17, 2014 - 10:20 am

      everyone can change the dictionary

    • Mary -  January 23, 2015 - 6:40 pm

      Words can be many and different, but yet will MEAN the same no matter. It’s the PERSPECTIVE that puts a spin on the INTERPRETATION. Why would they need to declare it then? Individuals personal interpretation, and in that moment, serving the greater good? Nope. Not in the “good” old days. Freedom isn’t free! Interpret that and you will see what I mean!

  15. Chloe Adams -  October 14, 2013 - 7:33 pm

    This was so helpful when it can to my essay thank you

  16. desami rosales -  October 10, 2013 - 7:43 pm

    Well, happiness really comes from within. Whatever meaning you want to describe it, it has to do with your own preference and how you experience that word in your everyday life. As for me, I still describe Happiness as my way of celebrating life.

  17. Red -  October 10, 2013 - 2:36 pm

    You have the emphasis on the wrong word. The word “Pursuit” is the unalienable right. Happiness is much to subjective.

    • anonymous bibliophile -  March 11, 2015 - 11:34 pm

      However, happiness signifies what it is that one is pursuing and, because it is in the constitution, which pursuits are legal.
      Ex.- Can one be a scofflaw and smoke marijuana under the claim that they are “pursuing happiness”? No, and this is because the Supreme Court Justice’s interpretation of happiness as meaning what the Framers meant it as, not the modern definition.

      • anonymous bibliophile -  March 11, 2015 - 11:35 pm

        *because of the Supreme…

  18. Lando Calrissian -  October 10, 2013 - 2:20 pm

    I remember now why I quit reading this blog.

  19. Glenzo -  October 10, 2013 - 12:18 am

    I think that writer here is being disingenuous and folds in the concept of ‘contributions to society’ or a clear leaning towards some kind of social compact or social responsibility being imbedded in the rights being discussed. This is a more modern philosophical construct and one that I find not particularly compelling since it is generally viewed as the foundation by the modern leftists to force people to act altruistically in a way that they alone think is altruistic.

    This is not what these folks had in mind. The original philosophy from Locke of life, liberty and property being unalienable rights are those rights that one gets from the virtue of being human did not include some kind of social compact. In fact, Adam Smith had written about sympathy in the that Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he explained that it is man’s nature to act in altruistic fashion this does not lead one to conclude that this is a right but a characteristic of man.

    However, in the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, too late for the framers to have read…… As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other eases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention…… This kind of thinking, probably much discussed prior to publication destroys the notion that happiness can be construed in any way as being a compulsion to altruism.

    The transformation by Jefferson is a beautiful re-creation of Locke’s original thinking. Happiness includes their property as a subset but it includes so much more. It is the purely individual right for people to pursue their dreams and live a life in which they see fit, within an accepting society. Yes, not hedonism, but one that is tolerant of others. It is also important to layer on that Jefferson also believed that it was the right and responsibility of the people to provide a check against the state that naturally grows it own rights at the costs of the people’s. So their right to happiness also has an embedded responsibility to check the power of government so that not only us but our descendents have an opportunity to enjoy these rights.

    • C -  June 26, 2014 - 8:55 am


      • C -  June 26, 2014 - 9:01 am

        Pursuit of happiness, comes after life and liberty. This means a society cannot interfere with the life and the liberty. Pursuit of Happiness, means nothing more than “ability to thrive” Like own property, feed yourself, and since it’s third this means peruse individual liberty. That a society of free people will always be able thrive. When they cannot peruse happiness, failure to thrive occurs, and people starve to death. This is not about service, this is about the individual being stronger than the whole. The extrusion contained here is perverse political smearing to demean the self-ish rights these men fought so hard for that promote the persons right given by god to thrive.

    • hellen -  December 3, 2014 - 10:32 am

      why so long?

  20. poopeater805 -  October 9, 2013 - 10:10 pm


  21. YUP -  October 9, 2013 - 5:47 pm

    Happiness Schwappiness. I must say I love Mae B’s comment.

    There are several interpretations of happiness, none of which specifically declare happiness as being someone who is involved in his community. Happiness is a mindset. Someone asks how you feel…you might say, “I feel happy.” Happiness is truly doing God’s work. Happiness is obtained by doing good and helping others, as well as bettering yourself. Bettering yourself does not necessarily mean seeking physical possessions, but that can be a part of bettering.

    Nonetheless, the author was ignorant to say happiness had no sense of the current meaning.

  22. dawntreader -  October 9, 2013 - 3:06 pm

    Oh please…. let’s get politically correct shall we? Everyone is aware that the language has changed but not that radically and yes Jefferson originally meant property. I hate revisionism…. Kennedy is less than a towering intellect.

    Oh and “White Rabbit”. those expletives are a poor substitute for a vocabulary.

    The founding fathers could at least communicate profoundly, too bad we no longer understand. For example, exactly what part of “shall not be infringed” is so difficult? We are in so much trouble.

  23. Speak2Truth -  October 9, 2013 - 2:13 pm

    The Scholarly Clarification

    In the original list of Rights sent to the King, it was Life, Liberty and Property.

    The Founders recognized that a person works to achieve and to acquire property to secure their own happiness and well-being. The final version, in the Declaration of Independence, still encompasses the Right to Property yet is just a bit more broad.

    To be clear, it is primarily about owning what is yours, or property rights, to be secured against anyone who would take from you what you have acquired in your own pursuit of happiness. It was an anti-Socialist statement (yes, they understood Socialism, going back to the Jamestown colony – see my final quote below).

    “If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.” –Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Cooper, 1802

    “If, from the more wretched parts of the old world, we look at those which are in an advanced stage of improvement, we still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised, to furnish new pretenses for revenues and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without tribute.” –Thomas Paine

    “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” — Benjamin Franklin

    “A right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to satisfy these wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the similar rights of other sensible beings.” –Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816

    “The utopian schemes of leveling [redistribution of wealth], and a community of goods, are as visionary and impracticable as those that vest all property in the Crown. [These ideas] are arbitrary, despotic, and, in our government, unconstitutional.” – Samuel Adams

  24. michael mitchell -  October 9, 2013 - 2:10 pm

    Amazing, a web site that allows for the expression of real thought and the practice of it.I see a few half wits making comments,but they are drowned out by the those who have something to offer.
    Thank you.

  25. G. Humphries -  October 9, 2013 - 12:20 pm

    I believe they said “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, among them Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
    So that would mean that the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is an inalienable; right?

  26. Chris -  October 9, 2013 - 8:03 am

    Mae B – what’s wrong with “bear arms”? Are you confusing “bear” with “bare” perhaps?

  27. Stephen -  October 9, 2013 - 6:55 am

    I do not think this is correct at least in the general “gist.” The Framers and Founders had just endured a war on home soil from their own governemnt tyrranizing them. The only way they could defend themselves was to bear “firearms” and not a coat of arms. A coat of arms is not what the minutemen caried at concord or Lexington. They further formalized it by the 2d Amendment under this understanding. THere are the minutes to those Congressional meetings that can be reviewed for further clarification.

  28. rad -  October 9, 2013 - 6:10 am

    true words of wisdom white rabbit, thank you.

  29. Alex Kerezy -  October 9, 2013 - 5:47 am

    EXCUSE ME – You missed the whole point – Happiness was NEVER to be an unalienable right. That’s the crux of the problem – people think the government is supposed to make them happy.

    What is says – is that we have the unalienable right to PURSUE happiness.

    There has always been, and there will always be – PEOPLE who will not. People who are not only ignorant but not willing in any way, shape or form better themselves.

    There is a group of Americans who think they’re ENTITLED to happiness, and that the government is supposed to provide that. It’s a CANCER in our society.

  30. Claudia -  October 8, 2013 - 5:04 pm

    It is often for people to misread the text written by our founding fathers. When it says, “unalienable rights” it means that they were given right by their creator-God- that can never be taken away from them. In this case, unalienable rights such as life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The code cracker is incorrect in this way. They said that one of the unalienable rights were the PURSUIT of happiness. Because not all people can have happiness, but they can pursue it.

  31. Daniel -  October 8, 2013 - 10:26 am

    @Louise: Interesting theory, but the problem with your argument is its ignorance of context: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” How can it possibly be defensible to leap from militia to coat of arms? The more natural, contextual reading is obviously that “arms” refers to weapons. Sorry, dude; it’s pretty clear that you are mistaken.

  32. Janet Bell -  October 8, 2013 - 9:04 am

    While the author makes a good point about the meaning and understanding of “happiness” having changed, he – and Justice Kennedy – missed main points.

    First, the emphasis of the unalienable right is not “happiness” but “pursuit.”
    The Founders were emphasizing that governments – kings, parliaments, congresses, whatever – had no authority to interfere with a person’s God-given right to follow that life to which they were called.

    Second, the quote by Justice Kennedy indicates that he sees the purpose of the pursuit of happiness to be the betterment of the state – a socialistic and communistic approach. The purpose is to better – emphasis on better – the pursuer, and thereby better the community in which he lives. It is a small difference in words, but a great one in meaning.

    The result of this misunderstanding and misapplication is that we have citizens with a belief that they are entitled to happiness electing public servants who believe that they are to make sure citizens are happy. And our nation is the worse because of it.

  33. ZTbhe -  October 7, 2013 - 7:42 pm

    so happiness is truly equality?

  34. Verbatim -  October 7, 2013 - 7:42 pm

    Louise on October 1, 2013 at 4:24 am
    “I have read that the phrase ‘the right to bear arms’ is also interpreted now in a different way to which it was originally intended. Under British law a family has to have permission from the monarch (or their designated representative) to be allowed to have a family coat of arms. After the war of independance (sic) American gentry were able to bear a family coat of arms without having to grovel to the authorities in a far off land or pay a hefty bribe for the privilege. The right to bear arms has since been interpreted as the right to bear fire arms.”

    Nice try Louise. The Second Amendment says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    This is clearly talking about the need and right of a free people to defend themselves. Not display a coat of arms. You don’t defend and enforce “the security of a free State” with a coat of arms.

    Peddle your propaganda somewhere else.

  35. David -  October 7, 2013 - 2:27 pm

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the PURSUIT of Happiness.”

  36. Larry -  October 7, 2013 - 2:06 pm

    (re: Oct 1, 2013, 4:24 AM)
    Louise, If the right to bear arms (2nd Amend) means the right to bear a coat of arms, then what do the words “a well regulated militia” mean. The traditional interpretation that it refers to “armaments” is the only one that makes sense.

    And I cannot imagine why America’s founders would consider a “coat of arms” an important enough right to put in one of the first ten amendments.

  37. Angalyssa -  October 7, 2013 - 9:17 am

    Life Liberty && The Pursuit Of Happiness(:

  38. Cassondra -  October 7, 2013 - 7:54 am

    Happiness is an umbrella word. It encompasses all that we perceive as a quality lifestyle during our past, present, and future: “virtue”, “luck”, “hard work”, “dreams”, “aspirations”, “preparedness” are only a few examples of what falls under this canopy. The Founders knew exactly what they were talking about…they wanted all Americans the right to live the best quality of life they choose. But, they also wanted Americans to both aspire and be content at the same time. The wording is still off though. “Pursuit” should be the word we question. Can we really pursue and continue to neglect our present? Could we really pursue riches without being hard working? Could we really pursue luck without some sort of goal or dream or belief?

  39. cyberscryber -  October 6, 2013 - 9:44 pm

    This is a common misreading. Happiness is NOT “an unalienable right”. However, the **PURSUIT of happiness is an unalienable right. The original meaning refers to the freedom to make a living (or not) without undue encumbrances from government, mobsters, etc.

  40. Mae B. -  October 6, 2013 - 7:49 pm

    “The right to bear arms has since been interpreted as the right to bear fire arms.”-Louise
    “Bear Arms” are only for Bears, Louise.

    The U.S. Department of Education and Spellcheck have failed you tragically.

  41. A.Marie -  October 6, 2013 - 3:49 pm

    People use the term “happiness” very loosely today. Sensual pleasures and instant gratification are not synonymous happiness, although people think that. They are merely temporary satisfaction/contentment. The original meaning of happiness is lasting joy. This would come from love, or charity, and just doing good things/acts in general.

    Happiness isn’t something a government can “give” citizens, because that is something that can only be chosen for oneself. But government can give them the right of the PURSUIT of happiness. So, yes, the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right.

  42. Dan -  October 6, 2013 - 10:43 am

    Really? People are confusing “happiness” with “self-gratification”? Ruh roh, raggy.

  43. Alex MacD -  October 6, 2013 - 10:27 am

    Bloggers: This article is an example of where “political correctness” gets us today. Redefine everything to fit their agenda.

  44. Gordy -  October 6, 2013 - 9:11 am

    i just watched the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness”

  45. Jeff -  October 5, 2013 - 9:46 pm

    Kennedy may have overstated his case, but even so: Look at the definition of happiness at http://www.merriam-webster.com, and you’ll see that an authoritative source agrees “happiness” once carried a meaning that is now obsolete.

    If you look at Webster’s 1828 dictionary, definition #1 mostly conforms to today’s usage, with just slightly less emphasis on pleasure. Definition #2 is not like today’s usage. If they decided to replace “life, liberty, and property” with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” then chances are they had something in mind closer to #2.

    @James Craig: Recasting the Constitution is a useful power play. If you don’t believe that an ancient document has authority but some other people do, then you may find it useful to distort the meaning of the ancient document in order to influence those other people.

    (Actually, the most vocal progressive I know has dissociative personality disorder, so he has an unusually strong ability to hold beliefs that directly contradict one other. So, sure, he might say that those who wrote the Constitution have no right to tell him what to do; but even if he were to say that, it would still be possible that another facet of his personality might feel better if he recasts the Constitution. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.)

  46. Aristides -  October 5, 2013 - 8:51 pm

    This is Orwellian nonsense. You can believe what Justice Kennedy said in 2005, but I’m more inclined to go with the words of Founding Father, Samuel Johnson, in 1755. From Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary:

    Happiness- Háppiness. n.s. [from happy.]

    1. Felicity; state in which the desires are satisfied.

    Happiness is that estate whereby we attain, so far as possibly may be attained, the full possession of that which simply for itself is to be desired, and containeth in it after an eminent sort the contentation of our desires, the highest degree of all our perfection. Hooker, b. i.

    Oh! happiness of sweet retir’d content,
    To be at once secure and innocent. Denham.

    The various and contrary choices that men make in the world, argue that the same thing is not good to every man alike: this variety of pursuits shews, that every one does not place his happiness in the same thing. Locke.

    2. Good luck; good fortune.

    3. Fortuitous elegance; unstudied grace.

    Certain graces and happinesses, peculiar to every language, give life and energy to the words. Denham.

    Some beauties yet no precepts can declare;
    For there’s a happiness as well as care. Pope on Criticism.

    If you’re wondering how Samuel Johnson defined “felicity” it was:

    “happiness; prosperity; blissfulness; blessedness”

    I’m not denying that the Founders believed that there were certain civic duties, but they did not define happiness as “serving the greater good”.

  47. YOLO -  October 5, 2013 - 4:29 pm

    I am shocked that something like this could cause such a commotion in just a few days…

  48. D.R.Christopher -  October 5, 2013 - 3:55 pm

    I can’t imagine where you got your information from though I do have my suspicions.

    “To ensure peace, security, and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable. The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that is good.” – George Washington, The Federalist #53.

    The above statement shows your ignorance of U.S. History to the nth degree. The Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. #53 was written by Mr. Madison and was a continuation of the topic in #52 which dealt with the House of Representatives. There was absolutely no mention of firearms or George Washington. And from what I’ve been reading about George Washington and The War of Independence he was not a proponent of either the rifle nor the militia. He preferred the soldiery be equipped with muskets which had a greater rate of fire and the militia, in most cases were undependable, deserting the Line in the face of any opposition, sometimes dropping their loaded weapons before they were even fired! (See Patriot Battles by Mr. Michael Stephenson – among others) I think you need to use your head for something other than holding your NRA ball cap.

  49. BKS -  October 5, 2013 - 2:29 pm

    I cannot believe how many ignorant parrots use dictionary.com. Seriously. Squawking YOU’RE NOT GUARANTEED TO GET HAPPINESS, ONLY TO CHASE IT BWAAAK (yes, thank you, never heard that braindead bootstrapping ‘witticism’ before) and only like two people here pointing out that the founding fathers (and their descendants) were slaveholding 1%-er style hypocrites mooching off the working class and every immigrant group they could fool into coming here.

  50. Matt -  October 5, 2013 - 12:47 pm

    This reads like communist propaganda. “The Founding Fathers didn’t really mean you have a right to pursue happiness, they meant you have a right to contribute to your community and government! And as proof we have a judge from 2005 to tell us what the Founding Fathers really meant 200 years ago!”

  51. Tom -  October 5, 2013 - 5:32 am

    Lorcan Bonda: you raise a very valid point: many of the “takers” are indeed the wealthy who expect to get bailed out when things don’t go their way. BTW, I have the utmost respect for the less fortunate among us who work hard to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them. Whether or not a person is a contributor has nothing to do with the level of wealth he or she starts out with.

  52. RasEnoch -  October 4, 2013 - 10:57 pm

    Happiness is a word that can be generalized when speaking figuratively about the hopes and aspiration of others from a hypothetical perspective. However, when the individual pursuit of happiness is centralized on the ideal-that which is perceived in its perfection before having been attained as imperfect human beings, just like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, happiness is arbitrary to the individual state of mind, which is highly subjective. Therefore, who can speak as an authority on what happiness means to another!

  53. Rachel -  October 4, 2013 - 1:25 pm

    Happiness is a gift from the God that created the ground that you are so unworthily stepping on. To question this, temper with it, or ask if we have a right to be happy is unbelievable. No one can ever take this gift away.

  54. Jared Hansen -  October 4, 2013 - 12:47 pm

    Not so fast.

    A better gauge of what The Founders meant by the word is not an abstract review of early 1700′s usage, but simply looking at how The Founders actually used it. Here’s Jefferson (who was the one that wrote “pursuit of…” into the US *and* Virginia constitutions):

    “Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.”

    So you could rephrase what Jefferson meant by “the pursuit of happiness” to be something like this:

    “…and the pursuit of good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.”

    Also, the “hedonistic” connotation only arises in the sense of getting a glutinous amount of “happiness.” A better way of interpreting Hutcheson is to simply focus on what he said it is *NOT* (ie, opposite of) – misery. So rephrasing Hutcheson:

    “Happiness is that state where fewer people are subject to (and stuck within) misery by the choices of others.”

    There is a key connotation here that the whole purpose of a “freedom to pursue happiness” is only ever needed in a system of laws where someone has the power to *suppress* your capacity to meaningfully *work* for a greater measure of happiness – that is, to acquire the benefits of good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.

    This really doesn’t disagree with our modern usage – except in the sense that some of the time an alternate definition of “happy” is used, that is the glutinous acquisition of pleasure, as in, the guy from the lottery just handed you a check for millions and then asks, “Are you feelin’ happy!?” But we could easily imagine Jefferson appreciating the same joke, too. Imagine Jefferson standing with Washington, observing the final moments of his rout of the British at Yorktown, asking, “I imagine you are happy now, sir!”

    The definitions of “happy” haven’t really changed. What has changed is some people have new ideas about what types of activities and rewards deliver a source of esteem from (at least SOME) other people for which there is plausible deniability regarding the amount of and validity of social stigma. For instance, earning ridiculous wealth from selling and then closing a factory, firing all its workers – earns you no embarrassment from a large swath of “greed is good” philosophical advocates.

  55. Steve -  October 4, 2013 - 11:32 am

    Your header is misleading. Happiness (good fortune, prosperity, etc) is not an unalienable right and never was intended to be. It is the PURSUIT of happiness that is our right.

  56. James Craig -  October 4, 2013 - 10:18 am

    I don’t know why progressives spend time trying to recast authoritative documents (i.e. the Bible, Constitution, etc) when progressives don’t actually believe in authority or the rule of law (except in the relative sense that the rest of us are to bow down to their authority and obey their laws).

    People who operate on the bipolar epistemology of absolute-relativity, manifest in mechanistic materialism (“science”) and humanism (a contradiction) are inherently deranged.

    Natural man is double-minded, unstable in all his ways.

  57. Lorcan Bonda -  October 4, 2013 - 9:31 am

    It seems to me that many are taking snippets out of context from this article. John Locke’s philosophy was that we all have a “natural right to Live, liberty, and property.” The Declaration extended this to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. According to this article “pursuit of happiness” is about achievement. In England, only nobles could own private property (everyone else had to lease it from them.) Property was the best way to achieve financial success. However, the declaration does not remove this idea — it adds to it. You can achieve success in other ways besides through property ownership. And you have the right to try.

    The altruism component is not part of the Declaration, nor does this article say it was. It comes from Hutcheson (whose picture is there because he was better looking than Locke.) The founding fathers were influenced by this philosophy, but it does not mean that it was enshrined in the Declaration. It only means that the great thinkers of the day were influenced by Hutcheson.

    BTW — “Right to Bear Arms” is written that way in British law concerning a coat of arms — apparently, you can only bear a coat of arms through ancestral right as recognized through by due authority. It is that is not how it is meant in the Bill of Rights.

    And Tom, I assume by “takers” you mean the wealthiest who are beneficiaries of our “welfare for the rich” mentality right now – the ones who naturally expect our government to bail them out when they run out of the money they stole directly from us.

  58. kevin anderson -  October 4, 2013 - 5:45 am

    Im reading a lot about ‘servitude’ being part of happiness. It’s almost as if this is an accepted part of human existence.

    Pure happiness would surely be the extent of freedom weighed against that of responsibility; and the choice of an individual to choose to which people he delivers his/her qualities should enable a more progressive, liberal and tailored society; naturally evolved through migration.

    Freedom of movement, freedom of thought, absence of fear and support from a community that has evolved from those with the same interests… thats happiness.

  59. Hilda -  October 3, 2013 - 9:46 pm

    Please get it right. Happiness is not a right. The “pursuit of happiness” is the correct wording which is an entirely different idea: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

    Just because the power hungry politicians are attempting to re-write history and the Constitution, it doesn’t mean you should too. If the Revolution was fought to escape an oppressive and tyrannical British rule, it would be absolutely contrary to the ideas of freedom and individual rights that the Founding Fathers espoused, to limit the definition of “happiness” to mean civic duty or service to others. Your collectivist definition is absolutely preposterous.
    This grave error and misinterpretation puts into question Dictionary.com’s reliability.

  60. T. Winschel -  October 3, 2013 - 8:29 pm

    The Oxford English Dictionary recognizes several shades of meaning for the word happiness and cites many usage examples back to the 16th Century. However, the OED does not support Justice Kennedy’s explanation of the 18th Century usage of happiness.

  61. PattyMac -  October 3, 2013 - 2:33 pm

    Also, let us not overlook the obvious – The U.S. Constitution does not grant us the “right” to happiness or the pursuit thereof. People who spout off about their civil rights to life, liberty, etc. would do well to remember that those “rights” are not Constitutional, but ideological.

  62. Tony Arnesen -  October 3, 2013 - 1:02 pm

    Actually, it was originally “Life, Liberty and Property”……….that is until the communist and socialist minded democrats changed it

  63. Akipa -  October 3, 2013 - 10:42 am


    In response to your ‘takers’ comment, let’s not forget that many of the founding fathers were slave owners. Let’s also not forget how much was ‘taken’ by the politicians and robber barons from the First Nations of the Americas. I wouldn’t be so quick to make them sound so principled and and open minded that it was ‘for all’.

  64. Nidnat Mystedin -  October 3, 2013 - 10:07 am

    The Ultimate Goal of every being is to be Happy! “Happiness” is contentment. Happiness is based on righteous actions contributing to the wellbeing of society – physically, mentally and spiritually – profoundly grounded on spirituality.

    “Pleasure” is different entity!

  65. Robert A. Dato -  October 3, 2013 - 9:52 am

    Happiness is a psychological emotion and pleasure is its physiological equivalent. By sanctioning the pursuit of happiness, our forefathers sanctioned the pursuit of pleasure, regardless of what they really meant. Americans take the pursuit of happiness very seriously and it has become a national value, second only to health. There is a more mature emotion on the emotional continuum: contentment. However, most Americans consider contentment boring. Thus, happiness prevails as our national emotion. One wonders if our forefathers would be pleased.

  66. Howard -  October 3, 2013 - 9:40 am

    They didn’t call “happiness” an inalienable right, only its “pursuit.” Next question.

  67. Tom -  October 3, 2013 - 8:29 am

    Kay and Alan hit the nail on the head. The Declaration does not say that we have a “right to happiness.” It says we have a right to PURSUE happiness. Unfortunately that is lost on the “takers” in the country today (and the politicians who pander to them). America was founded on the principle of opportunity for all — not on guarantees that everything will work out as we hope.

  68. Dr. M. Andrew Holowchak -  October 3, 2013 - 7:35 am

    One must go back to Graeco-Roman antiquity to grasp fully Jefferson’s employment of happiness in his Declaration. Jefferson was an avid reader of the ancients–Cicero, the Stoics, Tacitus, and to a lesser extent Plato and Aristotle, among others (see my book Dutiful Correspondent: {Philosophical Essays on Thomas Jefferson). He read assiduously ancient literature, mostly for moral content. His take on “happiness” is derivable from the Greek word “eudaimonia.”
    “Eudaimonia” (n.) literally means “being blessed with good godliness.” Very early in Greek literature (beginning with Homer in the eighth century B.C.), to possess eudaimonia was to be fortunate, blessed, or favored by the gods, which was often, if not mostly, perceived to be a matter of circumstances outside of a person’s control. Chance played a large part in one’s happiness. One has only to reflect upon how often the gods are seen to intervene in human affairs in Greek epic, tragedy, and even history. It is only with the advent of philosophy (esp., beginning roughly in the fifth century B.C., but spelled out most fully by Aristotle in the following century and the Stoics thereafter) that eudaimonia came to be seen as something within one’s control—at least, mostly so. Humans came to be seen agents, responsible for their happiness or lack of it. With one’s fortune no longer perceived to be mostly a matter of fate, eudaimonia took on a new, less fatalistic meaning. It came to indicate a certain stability of soul–equanimity (see my Happiness and Greek Ethical Thought).
    Jefferson in his Declaration apprehended happiness in this latter sense. That is the sense in which Hutcheson too employed happiness as well as many of the Enlightenment philosophers, who drew abundantly from Aristotle and Stoic thinking. Jefferson, however, was not an Epicurean and did not make purchase of the sort of consequentialism that is expressed by Hutcheson, though he pledged adherence to Epicurean thinking (see Dutiful Correspondent, chap. 4) and found inspiration in Hutcheson’s ethical writings. His thinking and even manner of living was Stoical.
    Note too Jefferson writes of “pursuit of happiness,” not “happiness” per se in his Declaration. It was a responsible government’s job to ensure the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. For government to ensure happiness would mean it would have to impose its own version of the nature of happiness–just what coercive governments in the past have done. Government merely was responsible for Jefferson for creating a non-oppressive milieu in which citizens could pursue their own course to happiness, so long as others were not impeded along the way. This was not embrace of value-pluralism as many scholars mistakenly aver. He was clear that virtue and liberty were bedfellows and essential components of the good life.
    Thus, one cannot apprehend employments of “happiness” in Jefferson’s day without thorough acquaintance of the ancient literature the scholars of his day read and fully assimilated.

  69. John -  October 3, 2013 - 7:35 am

    I think and believe that the individual has the greatest need for freedom not a society nor a mob. Societies always degrade and become convulted by debasing the individual claiming the rights for the better good. If God had meant for this to be so the yearning for freedom in each man and woman would not be there.
    Letters to Atticus :
    Wise men are instructed by reason
    Men of less understanding by experience;
    The most ignorant, by necessity;
    The beast by nature;
    Enough said

  70. Beorg -  October 3, 2013 - 7:31 am

    @ Louise on October 1, 2013,

    When a family bears a coat of arms, they also bear fire arms or other weaponry. No family would bear a coat of arms and not have power to back it up.

  71. Jeanine Joy -  October 3, 2013 - 7:01 am

    I give the framers of the constitution more credit for having realized that happy individuals are better for the world. Happy people have better relationships, are far less likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol, to commit crimes, and are more productive, successful and healthier. Science has proven these benefits of happiness and many more in recent years. But to someone who is observing others, not distracted by the mind-numbing effects of television, these truths would have been self-evident. The knowledge has existed since ancient times and is apparent in the words of philosophers who have stood the test of time from throughout the ages.

  72. come on -  October 3, 2013 - 5:26 am

    Get it right: they didn’t say “happiness” is an inalienable right. They said “the pursuit of happiness” is an inalienable right. Your homepage ought to correct this.

  73. Arlen Williams (@ArlenWms) -  October 3, 2013 - 1:50 am

    Perhaps this is the reason that Hutcheson does not “make the cut” for J. Adams and Jefferson, as primary philosophers for the American Revolution:

    “Hutcheson, however, placed clear limits on his notion of unalienable rights, declaring that ‘there can be no Right, or Limitation of Right, inconsistent with, or opposite to the greatest publick Good.’” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unalienable_rights)

    The problem with that sentence Hutcheson is that it invites circular thinking, like a doughnut with nothing in the middle that declares what is the greatest public good. However, the Declaration of Independence does fill in that hole, with reasoning also reflected by Algernon Sidney and John Lock, which declares that popular sovereignty under God is the core of American life (which must exist to bear unalienable rights) and that if government, rather than guarding popular sovereignty, intrudes upon and abrogates that position, it is the right and duty of the people to throw off that despotism.

  74. Arlen Williams (@ArlenWms) -  October 3, 2013 - 1:34 am

    In http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Hutcheson_%28philosopher%29 I found this:

    “Garry Wills argued in 1978 that the phrasing of the Declaration of Independence was due largely to Hutcheson’s influence,[17] but Wills’s work suffered a scathing rebuttal from Ronald Hamowy.[18]”

    More may be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unalienable_rights

    The peculiar word, “unalienable” may have come from Hutcheson, but the Declaration does not imply a doctrine of collectivist determinism. It does not state anything inconsistent with the understanding that the good of society is the good of its individuals, including their freedom from impositions of government mandating what is good or “happy” as a paternalistic, would-be benefactor by its supply of one’s material conditions of life, which restricts individuals personal and private choices, thus is a violation of one’s liberty.

    And actually, Hutcheson does not incline himself, in what I’ve read from him now, toward collectivism. Rather, it is clear from his writing that he is a proponent of individual liberty, including that what is good for the greatest number is that which allows for their liberty as free moral agents.

  75. Arlen Williams (@ArlenWms) -  October 3, 2013 - 12:34 am

    Here is an assessment by John Adams, of philosophers and their works which contributed to the doctrines of American Revolution. Adams effectively gave the job of drafting the Declaration of Independence to Jefferson, for political purposes. In my count there are ten or eleven philosopher sources mentioned. None of them happens to be Francis Hutcheson.

    “Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America,” JohnAdams: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/938320/posts

    And you can see here that Jefferson attributed John Locke and Algernon Sidney (to which John Adams agreed, however it seemed he reversed that order): http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/904337/posts

  76. Erika -  October 3, 2013 - 12:24 am

    The meaning of Happiness depends on each person. ♥ Happiness for me is when you think of other’s happiness, strive own your own success and to be contented of what you have. Real happiness can be felt not be seen.

  77. Arlen Williams (@ArlenWms) -  October 3, 2013 - 12:04 am

    I see no demonstration of this claim, that societal responsibility or altruism was what the framers of the Declaration of Independence meant, by “pursuit of happiness.” Rather, this right was demonstrably spelled out to be an individual’s right, as are the rights to life and liberty.

    Further, I see no actual difference in Hutcheson’s definition of “happiness,” in your quote of him, than in general parlance. The context of his language does not change the definition; each stands on its own, that term and its context. (A car is the same car, whether it is in a garage in Minnesota, or on Daytona Beach.) In his quote, “happiness” refers to each individual, not to feelings of one who does good to them, by the numbers.

    Actually, “pursuit of happiness” was a substitute for “property,” the commonly understood third right in the discipline of Natural Law. The authors of the Declaration however, did not want to put into the national charter language which might have been construed by slaveholders as justification for chattel slavery.

    Do you have historical justification for this claim? Does Anthony Kennedy? There is none offered in your three paragraphs.

  78. en jay -  October 2, 2013 - 9:10 pm

    ” happiness is within YOU” …. happy spelled w Y (why)…
    happiness spelled with I. so… HAPPINESS is YOU…

  79. WA SUP -  October 2, 2013 - 5:35 pm


  80. Denis -  October 2, 2013 - 3:13 pm

    Merrill, regarding your Thomas Paine quote from The Crisis (VII), there is one obvious typo and, I believe, another typo that is more subtle and appears to have been propagated by a misspelling at some point.

    My online research shows the quote to be:

    “It is, I think, exceedingly easy to define what ought to be understood by national honor; for that which is the best character for an individual is the best character for a nation; and wherever [NOT "whenever"] the latter exceeds or [NOT "of"] falls beneath the former, there is a departure from the line of true greatness.”

  81. Joan Garrity -  October 2, 2013 - 1:40 pm

    Personally, I am not sure our “Creator” endowed us with “inalienable rights” especially “liberty.” Life may be a right, but then why are so many in favor of killing viable human beings? I say ” viable”, obviously excepting ectopic pregnancies, where there is no possibility the baby will be born, and the mother’s life is endangered. However, except for those instances, just because a child may be challenged in some way, or because the mother does not “want” the child does not mean that child does not have the “endowed by the Creator the inalienable right” to live. Liberty is no necessarily an inalienable right-since slavery in the Bible was never condemned as an institution, but the humane treatment of slaves, and slaves working at their best and most honest was certainly encouraged. Since our president has declared that we are not a Christian nation, and I tend to believe we are not, and have never been in the strictest sense of the word, yet there is in our documents a consistent reference to “God”, the”Almighty”, “our Creator”. If there is a “Creator”, then it probably means there was a “creation”, which means to make something out of nothing. Is it a large stretch to make the connection then that teaching “Creationism” in schools is not unconstitutional? Or am I making some leaps here? Just wondering

  82. Sage -  October 2, 2013 - 1:24 pm

    They never said happiness was an unalienable right. They said the PURSUIT of it was. Get it right. The entire point of this article is built on a false premise.

  83. Kay -  October 2, 2013 - 11:55 am

    Also guys, please note that whatever the definition of “happiness” – it was not the attainment of “happiness” that was viewed a a right. The right was to “pursue happiness.” No one was guaranteeing the actual outcome.

    And of course the right to “pursue happiness” was limited by the requirement not to violate others’ rights in that pursuit.

  84. Craig -  October 2, 2013 - 9:41 am

    St. Augustine famously said, “My soul is restless until it rests in You,” referring to God. True happiness is the beatific vision, seeing God face to face. True freedom is being able to take the actions that lead to this ultimate end.
    Hutcheson’s comment, which implies that the right action is what leads to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, is the error of utilitarianism, in which the intention is the only framework for interpreting the morality of a human action. However, the ends do not justify the means.

  85. grayjones -  October 2, 2013 - 7:01 am

    “Happiness, is not itself an emotion. It is a word which states a condition, and the anatomy of that condition is interest. Happiness, you could say, is the overcoming of not unknowable obstacles toward a known goal”…L. Ron Hubbard. You can destroy anything with complexity…Semper Fi

  86. Alan -  October 2, 2013 - 5:10 am

    We have the right to nothing. We have the right to pursue anything (within reason). The right to something in and of itself without the effort to earn it would be dishonest.

  87. Rigor -  October 2, 2013 - 5:06 am


    The quotes you have presented are bogus. Please go read the actual text of the documents you reference and you will see that there is no truth to those quotes.

  88. Victor Cardiss -  October 2, 2013 - 1:50 am

    I’m astonished that a Supreme Court Justice explained the forgotten ‘sense’ of happiness when he would be better qualified to explain it’s true (Lawful) meaning. According to the letters that the founding fathers wrote discussing the wording ‘Happiness’ was linked to property ownership. Your right to own your stuff!
    The Canadian version lists life, liberty and security. (note Security refers to a. a certificate of creditorship or property carrying the right to receive interest or dividend, such as shares or bonds
    b. the financial asset represented by such a certificate
    The Declaration Of Independence is first and foremost a legal document that has both legal and lawful terms.
    Lawful and Legal are not the same thing. Laws are fixed, permanent and immutable (like the laws of physics). These laws cannot be introduced, abolished or amended by humans. The laws made by Humans are not laws but are legal statutes or ‘Legislation’. Legislation can be introduced, amended or abolished by humans. Our lawmakers don’t make Law they are Legislators who pass legislation
    Legal has it’s own language so it’s useful to have a Legal dictionary to hand.
    The legal definitions (thank you Blacks legal dictionary) include….
    Life… Intangible (or nonphysical) asset’s lawful duration.
    Liberty… Freedom; exemption from extraneous control. The power of the will, in its moral freedom, to follow the dictates of its unrestricted choice, and to direct the external acts of the individual without restraint, coercion, or control from other persons
    Happiness,… the right to pursue any lawful business or vocation, in any manner not inconsistent with the equal rights of others, which may increase their prosperity, or develop their faculties, so as to give to them their highest enjoyment.
    Law… In particular, that Law of the Land, as set out in the Magna Carta is the established Law within a Kingdom or Geographic Domain
    Legal… Man made statutes, see also ‘Universal Commercial Code’ or The Law of the sea
    Lien… A fine or levy against a persons property
    Alien…. A person who has no property owning rights and therefore cannot have a ‘Lien’ placed against them.
    Unalienable…. A Law that cannot be altered by human legislation. (God’s Laws, the Laws of Nature, etc)
    Read as a lawful document the Declaration of Independence has new clarity It describes as self evident.
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
    Note all men (and women) are CREATED equal.
    The rights they have are not human rights, legal rights, UN rights etc. They are GOD GIVEN RIGHTS and as such are UNALIENABLE, that is, they cannot be amended by human legislation.
    This should be easy for a legally educated Supreme Court Judge to explain, so why the waffle?

  89. GJones -  October 1, 2013 - 8:14 pm

    Alan, your looking up ‘happiness’ in an 1828 dictionary inspired me to check Samuel Johnson’s dictionary too http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/?p=9208 (the most important dictionary in the English-speaking world in the period preceding the Declaration of Independence.) It too gives a broad definition to happiness, which is consistent with modern views, the first sense being “Felicity; state in which the desires are satisfied.”

    Among the example sentences is one by John Locke (who, of course, was influential in 18th-century political circles). Locke specifically notes the different ways in which individuals choose to pursue happiness. “The various and contrary choices that men make in the world, argue that the same thing is not good to every man alike: this variety of pursuits shews, that every one does not place his happiness in the same thing.”

  90. fosterlyy -  October 1, 2013 - 6:58 pm

    Lol@GJones. Love the sarcasm, ;)

    Originally landing here was to expand the British Empire, in search of land and gold-
    The purpose of the revolution for independence was to protect this growing nation from British rule…to step away from the disgusting wars for freedoms of belief and life. To get away from nobility in the hope the social classes and judgements would disintegrate. I thought the Declaration and Bill of rights and United States was created to protect freedom of life, meaning to exist as individual entities with a government that would protect those freedoms.
    But of course…power corrupts. And we’ve struggled since trying to actually keep our freedoms, well, free (racial, gender based, sexual preference, social classes…etc..) And misinterpretation is a constant failure of the egoic human, and control of the masses for greed and hunger for power and immortality through the acquisition of such is most desired.
    When will hypocrisy end?

  91. Wayne -  October 1, 2013 - 6:40 pm

    Thanks to GJones and Merrill for correcting this author’s article on the correct interpretation of ‘happiness’ — an individual’s inalienable right to choose his own path in life, by his own God-given talents, and without interference from government. This article’s author is simply misguided; we’ll each need to assess for ourselves whether or not the misinformation was intended to deceive. Merrill deserves special thanks for his correction — direct from the mouths of the framers — to Louise’s ill-informed attempt to redefine our framers’ intentions, arguing the exact opposite of what our framers intended.

  92. Cameron -  October 1, 2013 - 4:50 pm

    I thought that Jefferson’s original phrase was ‘Pursuit of Property’, and that Franklin suggested the more general term.

    I don’t entirely disagree with Kennedy – but I don’t think the definition of happiness has changed all that much (although the word ‘pleasure’ may have…)

    As to comment on the 2nd amendment – I’ve never heard this interpretation. The right to bear arms (meaning weapons) was already a part of English common law. But I’ve always thought that the first phrase (A well regulated militia) was one of the most revolutionary statements in the Constitution – effectively giving the people (as opposed to a Lord or King) the right to raise an army.

  93. jess -  October 1, 2013 - 3:32 pm

    Msanthropy, what an ignorant person you are.

  94. YBui -  October 1, 2013 - 12:07 pm

    Thomas Jefferson was an admirer of Epicurus. To understand “happiness” one has to look at how Epicurus defined it.

  95. MsAnthropy J -  October 1, 2013 - 11:46 am

    I don’t know. Have you TRIED explaining to Middle ‘Murica that somehow language has the capacity to change? I don’t think they believe in that. That’s the Devil’s work! LOL

  96. Merrill -  October 1, 2013 - 10:45 am

    Louise: I don’t know where you read that interpretation of arms, but it has no relevance to the sentiments in the crafting of the 2nd Amendment. I’ve read hundreds of references by the Framers on the subject of arms. None referred to a coat of arms. All were in reference to weapons, and specifically firearms. Let’s hear just a short sample of what the Framers themselves had to say about it.

    “A free people ought to be armed. When firearms go, all goes, we need them by the hour. Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence.” – George Washington, Boston Independence Chronicle, January 14, 1790.

    “To ensure peace, security, and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable. The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that is good.” – George Washington, The Federalist #53.

    “Arms in the hands of citizens may be used at the individual discretion, in private self-defense.” – John Adams, “A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” 1787-88.

    “We established however some, although not all its [self-government] important principles. The constitutions of most of our States assert, that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves, in all cases to which they think themselves competent, (as in electing their functionaries executive and legislative, and deciding by a jury of themselves, in all judiciary cases in which any fact is involved,) or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed;” – Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. Memorial Edition 16:45, Lipscomb and Bergh, editors.

  97. Merrill -  October 1, 2013 - 10:37 am

    Perhaps it is unintentional but I detect subtle hints of collectivist sentiments in this interpretation of “happiness”. The spirit of the Revolutionaries one was of moral individualism, which held mutual respect for the rights of others. It was imperfectly realized but in general they beliefs held that a society benefits greatest because of moral individuals freely pursuing “happiness”, aka their fortunes. That progress, peace, and harmony were an organic result of such pursuits. While it does not address the topic of happiness, the following quote expresses the sentiments of the times.

    “It is, I think, exceedingly easy to define what ought to be understood by national honor; for that which is the best character for an individual is the best character for a nation; and whenever the latter exceeds of falls beneath the former, there is a departure from the line of true greatness.” – Thomas Paine

  98. Alan -  October 1, 2013 - 9:35 am

    I’m to believe that in 1776, happiness had a definition that is alien to us, but by 1828 it had so radically changed as to mean exactly what it means today? http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/happiness Hutcheson clearly believed happiness to be the opposite of misery, which fits just fine with the modern definition of happiness. Hutcheson’s quote in no way supports Kennedy’s hypothesis. This feels like a giant butt pull on the part of both Kennedy and the author. Maybe there is evidence in support of this theory, but it’s not shown here.

    Louise: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Exactly how does my family having a coat of arms useful to a militia?

  99. Jrilett -  October 1, 2013 - 9:06 am

    Always brings me happiness to read this blog, although not in the contributory sense…

  100. GJones -  October 1, 2013 - 6:35 am

    Also bear in mind that we don’t need rights to serve the community or state. Rights are needed to protect the weak from the strong, especially to protect individuals and small groups from more powerful collectives (the most powerful of which being the community itself).

  101. GJones -  October 1, 2013 - 6:33 am

    Next we’ll be told that “liberty” means freedom to serve others. :-) I agree, of course, that “pursuit of happiness” doesn’t have to refer to the pursuit by an individual of sensual gratification. Checking Google Ngram for the 18th century, though, I see examples of “pursuit of happiness” meaning just what we’d expect it to mean — personal satisfaction and fulfillment. That pursuit isn’t restricted to community service any more than it is to sensual pleasure.

    Skimming through the first two pages of results for the period 1747-1768 (the Ngram period right before the Declaration of Independence — http://tinyurl.com/qgho9vt), I see examples from John Locke, Tobias Smollett, and David Hume that assume that individuals will pursue happiness in various ways. I saw no examples that restricted the term itself (“pursuit of happiness”) to the narrow meaning of making contributions to society. I think we need to distinguish recommendations that people serve others (at least, as part of their pursuit of happiness) from actually defining the term that way.

  102. Louise -  October 1, 2013 - 4:24 am

    I have read that the phrase ‘the right to bear arms’ is also interpreted now in a different way to which it was originally intended. Under British law a family has to have permission from the monarch (or their designated representative) to be allowed to have a family coat of arms. After the war of independance American gentry were able to bear a family coat of arms without having to grovel to the authorities in a far off land or pay a hefty bribe for the privilege. The right to bear arms has since been interpreted as the right to bear fire arms.

  103. (James) Chin-Ti Lin -  October 1, 2013 - 2:51 am

    Pure happiness floats in the clouds and varies in the minds.
    Yet, what is real happiness? Here is what I take:
    Real happiness is a mental status resulting from fulfilling what you like, love, want, and need by harmoniously interacting with your internal and external environments so to make a good and right action, followed by taking a good and right decision to rake in what you like, love, want, and need, but not at the expense of others pain, suffering, and loss through manipulating others’ greed, ignorance, anxiety, and fear with all forms of tactics of power – administrative, political, mental, or physical – and with all forms of deception and pretense under hidden agenda. In a sense, happiness results from balancing and reciprocating between asserting the rights and fulfilling the obligations.


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