Did Thomas Jefferson Get It Wrong When It Comes To Happiness?

oh happy day

Thomas Jefferson, one of the authors of our Declaration of Independence is credited with adding the language, "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" as one of our unalienable rights. Yes! We all want happiness and pursuing it certainly sounds like a fun way to spend our time. In fact, many of us believe we are doing just that every time we step into the mall! But, was Jefferson mistaken?

As a student of personal growth and achievement, I have had an opportunity to study and learn from thousands of the most successful people from all walks of life. Some of these people have accomplished monumental goals like winning multiple gold medals in the Olympic Games, climbing Mt. Everest, and launching a successful airline with no prior aviation experience. However, the vast majority of people whose lives I have had a chance to witness have never even dreamed of accomplishing such monumental goals. In fact, their dreams are far more modest and include staying home to raise their children, managing a local convenience store, or providing refuge to stray animals.

The one thing that I have noticed is that the happiest people are not necessarily those who have accomplished the biggest feats, made the most money, or risen to international fame. Indeed, one of the happiest people I have ever known is someone that you will never meet, much less read about in the news. He is a school crossing guard near my home, and his name is Thomas.

For a period of 2 years as I drove the same route to my office, I would see Thomas sitting in a lawn chair at the intersection waving gleefully to passersby. Each morning as I approached (if he was not in the middle of the crosswalk of course), and if he was not already looking in my direction, I would gently honk my horn to get his attention. He would turn toward me and flash a smile as big and radiant as the sun, and he waved to me as if he was auditioning for the role of Santa Claus for an upcoming Disney movie. We did not know each other, we were not friends, but in many ways I felt more connected to Thomas than to most people that I call my friends.

On one occasion as the weather began to turn cold, I stopped at a nearby coffee shop, bought a cup of hot chocolate and a thick slice of warm banana bread and returned to deliver these treats to the Santa candidate. After introducing myself and learning his name, I asked Thomas why he was so happy all the time. He recounted how he had devoted the majority of his life to building a highly lucrative business and amassing some sizable wealth only to see it all disappear after his wife came down with a serious illness.

He said that although he was disappointed at having lost his business and his money, he awakens every morning giving thanks for his own health and for the fact that his wife of 40 years is doing well and is still by his side. He told me that through the process of losing his business, he realized that he was not at all happy doing what he was doing. He discovered that he was happiest while giving his time to and being there for others, something he rarely did while building and running his business. Thomas said that it is not the donating of his time that makes him happy, rather it is because he is happy that he donates his time.    

So where does Lulu Lemon come in to play?  Good question!

Within days of my encounter with Thomas, I noticed that my wife (a big Lulu Lemon fan), was carrying a small Lulu Lemon bag with some inspirational quotes printed on it. I was drawn to one quote in particular which read: "The pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness." Wow! Really? On a Lulu Lemon bag? The more I thought about this I realized that Lulu is absolutely correct!

Happiness is not something we can chase and capture to place in a tightly closed jar. It is not something we can win by filling out a sweepstakes form, and it does not show up in the mailbox among our weekly store coupons. Happiness is not derived externally, it is created internally. As Thomas so clearly pointed out, he does not volunteer to make himself happy, it is because he is already happy that he chooses to spend his time in service of others.

So, with all due credit to Thomas Jefferson and to America's founding fathers for standing up against tyranny and oppression, it appears that they should have first consulted with Lulu Lemon, as it may have resulted in a declaration which reads, "Life, Liberty, Happiness, and the pursuit of storewide clearance sales!"