Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happiness: The Unalienable Right

In September, I spoke at a memorial service for my fallen Naval Academy classmates. While writing down my thoughts, I speculated what our dearly departed would want for those they left behind. My conclusion was happiness.

USNA 1993 Reunion Brunch Following Our Memorial Service.

As my first piece of 2019, I thought it appropriate to talk about happiness this New Year's Day. It may seem like a minor thing, but it is an unalienable right proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.

We have life. We have liberty. Those rights were given to us. But it's up to us to pursue our individual happiness.

We all want to be happy. But the trick is figuring out how to achieve it. I've spoken a lot about simplicity, but that pertains to things like systems and products, not people.

While the recipe for happiness is simple, it does require some focus and attention.


A life of happiness begins with making meaning, which is a very personal process. Making meaning and being happy requires a few things.

1. Belonging

In order to belong, you'll need candid relationships with others where you can be yourself, not your beliefs.

2. Purpose

Purpose is simply using your strengths to serve others. While a person can have multiple purposes, it's a personal choice regarding which ones to pursue.

3. Transcendence

Transcendence is simply something that lifts you to a higher calling. In its basic sense, transcendence is an existence or experience beyond typical. I don't mean it to represent metaphysical, paranormal, or supernatural.

A higher calling is something that drives a person beyond what's typical, due to their devotion to duty or expectation. It could be writing, religion, military, medicine, parenting, etc. It involves giving up personal gains for the greater good. As one example, it could be pro bono work like open-source coding or free legal advice.

4. Storytelling

Storytelling is the story you tell yourself, about yourself (and, perhaps, others). The beauty of telling your story is that you are the author and you can edit and change the story as you live it.

Armed with this knowledge, I encourage you to go out and perform all manner of things thereunto pertaining in order to be happy and live a meaningful life with a health dose of love.

Carpe diem.

The following is my memorial service speech.

U.S. Naval Academy Chapel.

We are here today to remember our classmates who are no longer with us.

And we are reminded that they each had to squeeze their entire life into a shorter period of time than we have been given. We’ve outlived them.

We sit here and allow ourselves to be sad.
And that’s OK.
We cannot separate our memory of them from the empty sadness it brings us.
To do otherwise would not be human or compassionate.
It’s OK to be sad.

But we didn’t come here, this morning, to only be sad as we remember them.
When we look back at their lives, it should inspire us to enjoy our own life more.
It should remind us to live in the present.
To enjoy the moment.
To enjoy the simple things that we encounter every day.

We know the date our fallen classmates were born.
And we know the date that they left us.
And that their entire life;
All of our lives;
Is represented by that dash in between those two dates that define us.

It's not only that life is so short, but also that we’re dead for so long.
So, what advice might our fallen classmates give us, today, after we leave our reunion and go home, back to our daily routines?

And my answer is happiness.
Whatever makes you happy while maintaining a responsibility to the long-term.
We don’t pay enough attention to our own happiness.
But it’s important.
We shouldn’t forget that our country was built for it, literally.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We have life.
We have liberty.
It’s up to each of us to pursue our happiness.

So, we remember our fallen classmates, today, with fondness, respect, and love; and with the sadness that they left us too early. And, as I mentioned earlier, it’s okay to allow yourself to be sad, this morning, and then pursue your own happiness while we live the dash between the two most important dates that define our lives.

Thank you and carpe diem.

1 comment:

Ric Arthur said...

I'm glad that I got a chance to read this, Joe. Very thoughtful!