The Pursuit of Happiness

American Dream 200In just a couple of days, Americans will celebrate the 239th year since members of the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. Arguably the most famous statement within this revered document is the notion that all people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Yet recent polls indicate that many Americans may not believe that their right to pursue happiness exists in reality. According to a national telephone survey, only 37 percent of likely U.S. voters think America’s best days are in the future, “the highest level of optimism in more than two years.” Furthermore, the survey finds that 45 percent of likely voters believe the country’s best days have already come and gone.

Think about it. These findings suggest that more than half (at least 55 percent) of likely voters don’t believe the American Dream could be their reality. And this is among likely voters! Granted, I got my Ph.D. in research out of a box of Cracker Jacks, but I suspect that these levels of optimism are even lower among unlikely voters.

Suddenly, those fireworks don’t seem so bright, and that hamburger doesn’t seem so appetizing. Yet, consider this: On July 4, we pursue happiness by celebrating within our communities. We participate in parades together, watch fireworks together, and devour double our recommended daily caloric intake together. Indeed, the celebration within the context of community is why July 4 has long been my personal favorite holiday.

Perhaps there is a connection between optimism and strong communities. Do people who live in strong vibrant communities feel more optimistic about the future? While the survey findings I cited earlier don’t explore the connection, that Cracker Jack Ph.D. of mine suspects such a connection exists. If you are among the majority of Americans who are not optimistic about the future, what can you do to help fight for the right of the pursuit of happiness in your community?

Strengthening communities is a key part of Goodwill’s mission of enhancing the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families. Last year, in communities throughout North America, Goodwill turned more than 3 billion pounds of unwanted stuff into $5.37 billion, 84 percent of which was invested in people overcoming their employment barriers. In the process, more than 125,000 people were employed by and more than 20,000 people were volunteers for Goodwill at the end of last year. In addition, more than 5,500 people have signed up to support Goodwill’s policy efforts through Goodwill’s legislative action center.