Two hundred and thirty-one years later, our pursuit of happiness is still going strong. I don't know if any other country offers this pursuit as a fundamental, unalienable right, but we got it, in writing. Unfortunately, what they didn't tell us is that you're not necessarily entitled to happiness—your right is merely to pursue it. For happiness itself, we need to look elsewhere than that venerable document.

There are some smart people who have figured this out. Lilly Pharmaceuticals, for example, the proud producers of Prozac™. Now, there is nothing wrong with feeling good, and I don't want to just bash the drug industry (too much). Clearly, depression is a big problem. And I, for one, don't terribly mind if the fine capitalist folks at Lilly make good on their investment, as long as everyone is, well, happy.

That said, I would like to take a closer look at our pursuit of happiness. Because it seems to me that the pursuit itself may be getting in the way of its object. All too often, the more we pursue happiness, the more it evades us.

In fact, I am going to tell you exactly what you need to be happy. Are you ready?


Exactly what you have, where you are and how you are, are the only essential ingredients for happiness. You see, happy is not what you become when you have x, y and z. It is what you become when you recognize the good in your present situation.

(Obviously, I'm talking about your run-of-the-mill unhappiness; clinical depression may require medication in addition to what is stated above. It's also true, however, that according to most studies on the effectiveness of anti-depressants, medication alone cannot cure clinical depression. Even with a prescription, happiness requires the attitudes discussed in this article, or some type of positive cognitive therapy.)

As the sages of the Talmud confirm: "Who is a wealthy person? One who is happy with what he has." There are other things we need in life, like ambition and perseverance. These are important qualities, but these should not be confused with happiness.

Granted, being happy with what we have may not create a booming economy. It will, however, assure that we are happy and wealthy. And for a fraction of what we're spending today to get happy.

After all, which would you rather have—the ability to be happy with what you have, or the ability to pursue all things that will make you happy? Well, we do seem to be headed on the latter path—it is the pursuit of happiness that has caught our attention. After 231 years, I think it's safe to say that our pursuit has achieved a lot. But it has not brought us happiness. Today, we would be happy simply to not be depressed.

But, you may ask, "How can I be happy with what I have when I don't have what I want?" I'm glad you asked, because this question crystallizes the issue of happiness. When you don't have what you want there are two options before you. One path is to work hard to get what you want. There are several problems, however, with this route. You may work hard and never get it. Or you may get it , and find that it's not what you really want, after all...

The other path is to work at being happy with what you have. Decide that you will decide what you really "want." Imagine if you could learn to enjoy a carrot as much as you enjoy that juicy steak. You would be happier, healthier and have more shekels in your pocket after your snack. (Not to mention how happy the cow would be.) We get caught up in our wants and desires, confusing them with needs. This is not a path to happiness.

All this is quite simple, though not easy. It is hard work to learn to enjoy the blessings that you have. Indeed, the Torah uses the word avodah, meaning "labor," as the necessary verb to accompany happiness. But once again, if the first 231 years of America are any indication, I don't think we mind working hard. We just want to know that all that hard work will get us the happiness and satisfaction we're pursuing.

There is one question I will leave you with, however. If we are happy with what we have, won't we just get lazy? What will drive us to achieve, to better our world, to accomplish the goals of life?

I welcome your ideas in "Post A Comment" below: