In the film, there is a period where Dad and son are homeless. Chris and his son are walking through the San Francisco underground and his son is trying to keep up as he carries his share of their only earthly possessions. While he struggles to follow his dad he asks, “Dad, where are we going?” And his dad asks, “Do you trusts me?” It is a question he will ask his son many more times before the film ends.
The day after watching this film I was driving across New Mexico listening to a podcast from The Economist talking about the same phrase – “the pursuit of happiness.” To quote: “However much we pursue happiness, we do not seem very good at increasing our stock of it. As capitalism makes western countries richer, there is little or no rise in the overall proportion of people who consider themselves to be happy…affluent countries seem to have trouble striking the right balance between work and play... Capitalism can leave us free to pursue happiness, or unhappiness, as vigorously as we are able. To ask any more of it would be asking too much.” In other words, being rich, being wealthy, having all material needs met doesn’t mean you will be happy; and being a capitalist doesn’t guarantee happiness; Nor does being poor and homeless mean you will be happy either.
The timing of the podcast after watching the film is not lost on me. The film sets up “happiness” as something pursued and rarely caught, but if you get a “good” job, and provide for your family then you will be happy. The Economists argues that for all our pursuit, we are never satisfied – that in fact, being a country that is the poster child for capitalism and democracy, we sure are a sad republic; that even a good job and provision don’t make us happy.
Notice a theme here?
When I was 19, I left home with earthly possessions loaded up in my truck, and went to work for six weeks in Southern Colorado. I was burnt out from University, taking at least a year off, but doing and living where I knew not. To do what I did started me in an adventure of Trust that, had I known what would come, I would not have stepped out the door…but in some way it was my own version of “the pursuit of happiness.” At the end of that six-week job I literally drove off in my car not knowing where I would sleep that night, or the next; where I would end up, or how I would make a living. It was adventurous and I was wide-eyed with wonder and delight at the unknown…I was also technically still a teenage.
Eventually, I graduated from University, even moved back to Texas for a spell to work with high school kids – probably the most “stable” time of my life since I’d left home. I will admit, though, I wouldn’t say I’d found “happiness” as Jefferson was likely proposing when he wrote the Declaration. In all of this I was learning what it meant to be a “son” to a God who called himself “Father” and asked me to trust him as such. Three years into my “stable” job and life, it was time to move on, loading up a different truck with my stuff and head out.
It’s been fourteen years since that first time I left home. I still feel like I am trying to keep up with God – the One who calls himself my Dad – asking “where are we going?” and his question back is “Do you trusts me?” When I was 19, it was all so new, so thrilling, and wondrous. At 33, I wonder more if I have lost my marbles along the way. If I look to my left and right, people my age are settling into the very idea of “happiness” that the film implies, and Jefferson seemed to declare. Some are truly happy. Many are not. But from my place it is easier to think their grass is greener than mine…even if it is grass in a yard they own, and mine is the one I walk under on my way to somewhere else.
I try and try to convince myself that I should being pursuing other’s ideas of happiness, the “normal” life, etc. Sometimes I get so worked up doing so that I am convinced that I missed the boat and must find my way back to that point in life where it all settles down into a house, a yard, married, kids and a mortgage. But even The Economist recognizes that these things don’t necessarily increase ones happiness.
Then there is this Dad/God that keeps living like I haven’t a home here, and there is something more he is after; that I am wired by him for this kind of trust, and anything less would be less than “me.”
The Pursuit of Happiness is more than the pursuit of what is often referred to as the “American Dream.” The Pursuit of Happiness is finding out what it’s like to live in and, therefore, out of your own skin. Life and Liberty create a place for this kind of chase. It doesn’t take being rich to find out how dissatisfying wealth can be; and it surely doesn’t take being an American to know there is more to it than the acquisition of things and power. Living in your skin has little to do with any of these things. The trick for me is letting myself believe that this “Do you trust me?” kind of stuff is where the pursuit begins.
"It may be when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, And that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey." -Wendell Berry