Pursuit of Happiness

August 2, 2018


I remember the first time I saw the movie, “Pursuit of Happiness”, feeling dissatisfied. I felt like they hadn’t actually captured the spirit of the phrase. The phrase that was intrinsically linked to life and liberty and property. The phrase that was the culmination of man’s understanding of mankind- its badness, its goodness, its possibilities and how to ensure certain rights through government.

And then I lived a couple of years, built a business that frustrated me to no end, doubled-down, built it bigger, again frustrated, doubled-down, and after another year of sideways progress which didn’t bring monetary success but brought more enjoyment of the process, I finally understood the movie.

I had put too much emphasis on the “Happiness” part of the phrase, and not enough emphasis on the “Pursuit” part.

You see, its true that happiness is a state of mind. I admire those folks that are just happy. I’ve met them all over the world. I’ve gotten to know some of them 3-dimensionally, and some happy people actually have some crazy stuff going on behind the scenes, and they still put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us, smiling all the while.

I am not one of these people. I remember choosing to be happy. I remember the person that helped me understand how. But that’s another blog post.

For me, there is no such thing as static happiness. If I sit still too long, either in a job or in creative endeavors, I feel like I’m going to explode. You see, “Pursuit” doesn’t happen from a couch, regardless of how dynamic a couch you happen to be sitting on. You don’t see cheetahs and gazelles idly moseying along, the pursued and pursuer lackadaisically whistling in the African savanna.

For as long as it takes for one to win, and the other to realize it, it is 100%. Now life isn’t just about winning regardless of the cost, but that also is another blog-post.

The older I get, the more I realize that while some may seem statically happy, happy to be in one place, seemingly forever, this really isn’t happiness. Happiness is about pursuit. Happiness is about the choices and the journey; the feeling you have of life in your bones. Happiness REQUIRES pursuit.

Happiness and pursuit are intrinsically linked to what is called the “American” Dream (which ironically is more easily achieved in Denmark than the USA, according to current economic data)- but there is nothing monopolistically “American” about the dream of wanting more. That is pursuit, it is universal, and it is historical.

Happiness and pursuit are also inextricably linked to subsistence. That may not be a familiar word to many lower-48ans, but to those of us in the Republic of Alaska, subsistence is a word that comes up in every conversation about Native rights and state sovereignty. The more I delve into the layers of the subsistence onion, the more it becomes a key to our modern dissatisfaction with plenty, and the nature of the cure.

Happiness requires pursuit, but if pursuit is simply material, it cannot lead back to happiness- only longing. If happiness is linked to stuff, or people, we will never have enough. We become something in the pursuit, and that is where the spiritual nature of subsistence springs up. What does our excess gain us? What are the parameters around us winning? Are we happy with the journey, or is our journey simply a series of false peaks, with the real peak always another peak beyond?

The spiritual nature to subsistence is in contentedness- happy-ness, with where we are, how we are, and with what we are. There’s a certain amount of Zen here, of “no-mind-edness”; of BECOMING the pursuit, not simply pursuing. I suppose that’s why it’s important to choose our gazelles wisely…

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