Some days it’s hard to be optimistic and positive about the future. Current events around the world, wrangling political parties warning us the other side will drive us into Armageddon, the unemployment rate, fuel prices and the general mood of folks lately is anything but uplifting. I’ve heard some people say the mood is downright mean-spirited and that people seem to be self consumed.
Some blame it on the talking heads; others blame it on the political system, TV programming, the media, or the internet. In reality there is plenty of blame to go around, but most of us need look no further than the mirror. We’ve all played a role in the arrival of the dark clouds hanging over our heads these days. The liberty and freedoms we so thankfully enjoy don’t create happiness by themselves, they only set the stage.
Like a big jigsaw puzzle, one piece can have an overwhelming influence over the other pieces or it can just fall into place with all of the others. Sometimes the solution to the puzzle is right in front of us, we just have to look. Other times, the solution can be lost in the sheer number of pieces surrounding it.
Look no further than the recent events in the Middle East. After years of totalitarian rule, where every move of the people was controlled by a stiff-handed dictator, years of pent-up anger and a desire to test the limits of this newfound freedom are being released. The population there is finding they are as frustrated now as they were before they overthrew the former government. How much do you think their lives would improve if they brought about death to America, as they so often chant during their protests? On the other hand, how much have our lives or the world changed since the deaths of Osama Bin Laden, Sadim Hussein or Moammar Gadhafi? Those three men were killers and treated the people of their nations horribly, but their deaths alone have not brought about instant gratification to their nations, nor have their deaths altered people’s attitudes toward America. They were once influential pieces to the puzzle, but they were never the complete picture.
There is no magic formula to finding happiness and a life of freedom and liberty. Like a puzzle it’s a process and one that, after more than 200 years of existence, America is still working to complete. At the core of our Constitution and the rights we’ve been awarded as a free people it all boils down to the value we place on those rights. Without realizing the full value these rights give us they are only words on paper that governments, leaders, lawyers or citizens can easily minimize.
But when we place great value and cherish these rights as one of our most prized possessions, and are willing to risk everything for fear of losing them, we begin to understand their true value.
Let me put it another way. Recently I was visiting an employee who experienced a serious accident while on the job that placed him in the hospital, paralyzed from the shoulders down. We are all praying an operation will restore the full use of his body, but until the results of the operation are realized he is left hoping for the simple things many of us take for granted every day. In speaking with him, the joys of moving his body at will, hugging his wife, children and grandchildren, walking on his own two feet once again and the joy of just living his life will now be the greatest of gifts. When the stark realization of what you’ve lost may never return you truly realize the value of what you’ve lost, and if returned, no day in the future would ever be taken for granted.
If every human being could come to that simple realization, without undergoing the pain of losing or never having known those precious gifts, and be willing to celebrate that same opportunity with every other human life that shares this small planet, how great would this world be and how thankful and respectful would we be toward each other? Oh sure, we would still have problems to resolve, but we would be far more understanding and willing to work with each other to overcome the simple things while valuing the irreplaceable things.
Is any day not a great day where you have your health, family and the freedom to pursue your version of happiness? The most self destructive thing we can do in life is to assume that our happiness comes from someone else’s misery. In life, in politics and in our communities happiness is built on the simple joys of building something together and celebrating the joy of that accomplishment. This country, while far from perfect, will only find its way out from under the dark clouds when we remember to cherish how far we’ve come as a nation and work together to pass along that same opportunity and these important values to the generations that follow.
Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.