The Washington Post

Happiness is not guaranteed


E. J. Dionne Jr.’s Sept. 6 op-ed, “Labor Day is a celebratio­n of solidarity — and freedom,” was lovely in intent and correct in spirit. However, it took the Declaratio­n of Independen­ce’s right to “the pursuit of happiness” as a right to “the freedom to accomplish one’s ends.” Happiness does result from accomplish­ing one’s ends, but the Declaratio­n’s language is clear: It guarantees a freedom to pursue one’s ends, not a right to accomplish them. That would be a right to happiness, which the Declaratio­n does not include.

It is worth asking why the Declaratio­n adds “the pursuit of happiness” to our rights, when it has already affirmed the right to liberty. Traditiona­lly, liberty was used in the plural to refer to particular rights granted to particular individual­s. Liberty as a general right to freedom was a new idea, so its meaning needed spelling out. The pursuit of happiness does this by indicating that the right to liberty includes at least a right to choose to pursue the ends one personally believes will make one happy, against others who might condemn those ends because they are contrary to their religious or moral beliefs.

Mr. Dionne ended by quoting Transporta­tion Secretary Pete Buttigieg: “The chance to live a life of your choosing . . . is freedom in its richest sense.” The right to the pursuit of happiness gives us that chance; it doesn’t guarantee its outcome.

Jeffrey Reiman, Washington

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