The beginning of the Declaration of Independence makes an interesting statement.
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.
The writers believed that this was self-evident, meaning that it was completely obvious and didn’t need explanation. The right to life (a.k.a. to stay alive) and right to liberty (a.k.a. freedom) make perfect sense to us. But the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” doesn’t have the same meaning to us today as it did to the patriots in 1776.
We live in a world today that is obsessed with the pursuit of happiness. But it’s not a world that our founding fathers would even recognize. Today the words “happy” or “happiness” have become watered down, speaking more to a temporary mood or shallow state of being.
But when that sentence was written, the phrase signified a combination of fulfillment, contentment, self-worth, dignity, and community or civic duty. I love the quote from this article, which sums it up by saying that “happiness was about an individual’s contribution to society rather than pursuits of self-gratification”.
So our founding fathers thought that this was a core tenet of humanity, but is the pursuit of happiness a biblical principle as well?
What does the bible say about happiness?
A lot, it turns out.
It’s worth just getting this out of the way to begin with: pursuing happiness does NOT mean pursuing your own desires at the expense of others, or at odds with God’s way. It does not say “the pursuit of pleasure”. And it’s NOT the pursuit of materialism, humanism, and hedonism (II Tim. 3:1-4). Solomon was clear that pursuing these things was pointless vanity (Eccl. 12), and the bible reiterates this again and again.