Today, we celebrate the spirit of independence that exists within every human being. For many of us, the Declaration of Independence is a truly inspiring document, mostly because of the following words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
I am moved by the fact that our nation was founded on the notion that each of us is born with the right to pursue Happiness--with a capital H. But having this right does not guarantee us happiness. In fact, we all know people for whom the pursuit of happiness seems to interfere with the actual experience of being happy. In fact, we ourselves might even be those people.
Benjamin Franklin observed, "The U. S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself." How do we stop chasing happiness long enough to be happy? Part of the answer has to do with the recognition of an important paradox of human existence. At some levels, we are independent beings, but at others, we are very much interdependent. Our happiness depends, to some degree, on others.
For one thing, we do not exist independently of anyone. Our parents brought us into the world; our teachers showed us how to function in it; myriad people, animals, and plants helped to feed us; and the people and things we love have shaped our decisions and determined the course of our lives. In return, we need to acknowledge the role we play in the lives of others. The welfare of someone depends on us: our child, our pet, our spouse, our student. our neighbor.
We are interdependent (whether we like it or not). Our happiness is linked inextricably to that of others. That is why we have no choice but to be compassionate. In the words of the Dalai Lama, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” To practice compassion means to adopt the other person's position, to identify with their suffering, and to do whatever we can to ease their burden.
It is time for a Declaration of Interdependence. We stand to benefit limitlessly from acknowledging that all of us are in this together. By sharing our happiness with those around us and dedicating whatever benefits come our way to others so that they may benefit as well, we are only maximizing the stream of gifts that comes into our lives. The more we give away, the more we receive. It's really that simple.
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