This morning I became aware of an article in First Things that is apropos for Independence Day. James Rogers helps us to understand how the “pursuit of happiness” as understood in 2012 is different than the the intended meaning of 1776. He opens this way:
The right to “the pursuit of happiness” affirmed in the Declaration of Independence is taken these days to affirm a right to chase after whatever makes one subjectively happy. Further, the Declaration doesn’t guarantee the right to happiness, the thought usually goes, but only the right to pursue what makes you happy. But this reading of the Declaration’s “pursuit of happiness” is wrong on both scores.As we celebrate another year of political freedom, let us remember that the happiness we enjoy is to be self-governed by a responsibility for our neighbor's good.
“Happiness” in the public discourse of the time often did not simply refer to a subjective emotional state. It meant prosperity or, perhaps better, well-being in the broader sense. It included the right to meet physical needs, but it also included a significant moral and religious dimension.