Hometown Happenings: Happiness: A Revolutionary Idea

By Town of Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann

By Supervisor George Hoehmann

If you think finding consensus in today’s America is difficult, we should all consider and be encouraged by the experiences that shaped us before we were a nation. The path to American Independence was hardly an easy one. The debate that took place among the Founders and the colonist population centered on a number of considerations. If they were to go forward in declaring independence, everyone had to face the fact that England had at her disposal the most powerful military in the world. Odds were more than long; the whole endeavor seemed downright suicidal.

So what was the variable that changed the course of history? What was the ingredient that kept Washington hopeful, despite tremendous defeats in the opening stanzas of the war? And truly, what kept the rank and file Continental Army soldier going? Dressed in a ragged uniform with increasingly ample amounts of doubt and a limited amount of rations, there had to be something that inspired them beyond pure survival.

It was the most revolutionary idea at the heart of the Declaration of Independence: happiness.

“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Happiness is more than just a feeling. It’s an “unalienable right” we have by virtue of our very being.

The notion that a leader (most likely a king or another entrenched, unchangeable ruling class at that time) would even consider or promote an environment where the people they governed might achieve any kind of happiness was kind of unheard of. I’m sure King George III and other monarchs had a good laugh over it, actually. “Pfft, ‘happiness!’ Who do these guys think they are? They’re lucky I leave them with enough to subsist on in exchange for providing them with order.”

Of course, we all have a sense of what happiness means to us individually. We all have a thought or two about what happiness means in the context of today’s world and how we might continue to “form a more perfect union” that maximizes happiness for the greatest amount of people. That’s the beauty of the most easily recited phrase in the Declaration of Independence. It empowered people—not rulers of people—to define and pursue a life well lived.

Many historians believe the die was cast well before the decision to become an independent nation was made in Philadelphia 242 years ago. America’s gamble would pay off, but chance wasn’t at the heart of it. It was happiness.

Have a safe, fun and Happy Independence Day.