Moving forward through the pandemic as a country and world, I find myself contemplating the concept of “happiness”. How it is defined in our rapidly changing world. Is it a personal ephemeral state and can it be endured beyond this moment or day?
As an “old” journalist, I support the importance of observing and sharing events and issues that affect our present and future lives. The fundamental journalism belief that factual knowledge is a compelling tool. Facts are powerful accelerators for change. Authentic journalists are an idealistic lot. Our souls seek hope in every missed bullet, even as we despair at the endless cycles of repeating history.
When did journalism get bartered away as a marketing gadget? That subtle transition where followers and likes became more relevant than facts. Journalism was Facebooked. Inconvenient truths became less palatable than kitten videos. Truth became another commodity in the bid for perceived popularity and happiness.
When I started my career, getting my Press Pass was a rite of passage. It was given and received with a debt of integrity. To faithfully represent neutrality and factually report events. It was a symbol as influential as the Red Cross. It protected us by assuring all sides, we would put our lives on the line to report facts and, protect those who helped us investigate and prove those facts. Personal opinions shelved for the greater good and perhaps powerful, positive change. Getting my first press pass remains one of my most hallowed memories.
Which brings us back to happiness. Is it a personal, exclusive feeling or, something that begs action and inter-action? If those around us are un-happy or suffering, can we still be happy? Kitten videos may offer passing relief from stress, but is that “happiness”? The pandemic brought the world together with the awareness of our mutual needs. The “Over There Syndrome” was on hold as we fought for our collective survival against an invisible enemy. In facing our fragility both as humans and society we found a strange new happiness. Every day was a celebration and appreciation of life even as we wept for those who passed. (Very much how journalists feel every day).
The American 1776 Declaration of Independence guarantees the right to; “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. This can be interpreted as an endless, exhausting chase after unattainable happiness.
Let us dig a little deeper into the historical thinking at the time of writing. In 1690, John Locke (a “follower” of Sir Francis Bacon) wrote “The necessity of pursuing happiness is the foundation of liberty” Jefferson declared that the pursuit of happiness was an “inalienable right”. One of the three foundational Declaration ideas of freedom. Arthur Schlesinger, in 1964 suggested that at the time of the Declaration’s composition, “the pursuit of happiness” did not mean chasing or seeking it, but actually practicing happiness, the experience of happiness”.
At the time of writing, Jefferson expanded on John Locke’s theory in a singular direction. He recognized the possibility of governments having arbitrary laws that could in effect, take your life, liberty, or property. A purely individualistic society could and would inevitably regress into tyranny.
“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is a socially inclusive concept. In “God We Trust” implies our enlightened writers understood that these rights are given to all humans by their creator, not by governments. Governments are entrusted with protecting them.
Happiness is not dependent on our position in life, but is the result of a good conscience and pursuits that are beneficial to all our fellow humans and society. Rather than living a life chasing riches, instead, we live a rich life.
As journalists, in a chaotic world, we experience happiness in every day. We are paid in pennies, but we refuse to sell our right of pursuit it to the highest bidder.
In the words of John Locke “whatever I write, as soon as I discover it not to be true, my hand shall be the forwardest to throw it into the fire”.
Happiness is living your truth not for personal benefit, but for all of humanity. Be happy