Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Happiness | Motivational Podcasts

Podcast Transcript: Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast. Today’s reading is edited and adapted from the work of David Starr Jordan, the founding President of Stanford University, who is also one of the authors featured in our popular hardcover book Evergreen: 50 Inspirational Life Lessons. To learn more about this motivational book, please visit

Among the inalienable rights of Americans, as history has taught us, are these three: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So long as we are alive and free, we will, in one way or another, seek that which gives us pleasure — hence life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are in essence the same. But the pursuit of happiness is an art in itself. To seek it is not necessarily to find it, and failure may destroy both liberty and life.

Of some phases of this pursuit, I wish to speak today. My message is an old one. If by good chance some part of it is true, this truth is as old as life itself. And if it be true, it is a message that needs to be repeated many times to each generation of citizens.

It is one of the laws of life that each acquisition has its cost. No organism can exercise power without yielding up part of its substance. The natural law of transfer of energy is the basis of human success and happiness. There is no action without expenditure of energy, and if energy be not expended, the power to generate it is lost.

This law shows itself in a thousand ways in the life of the individual. The arm which is not used becomes feeble. The wealth which comes by chance, weakens and destroys. The good which is unused turns to evil. The charity which asks no effort “cannot relieve the misery it creates.” The truth which someone else has won from nature or from life is not our truth until we have lived it. The only things that become real or helpful to anyone are those which have cost the sweat of our brow, the effort of our brain, or the anguish of our soul.

If you would be wise, you must daily earn your wisdom — for those who add not effort to power soon lose the power they once had. The responsibility for effort thus rests with the individual. This need is the meaning of individuality, and by it each must work out their own salvation, though with fear and trembling it may be sometimes, and all times with perseverance and patience.

The greatest source of failure in life comes from this. It is easier to be almost right than to be right; to wish, than to gain. In default of gold, there is always something almost as good, and which glitters equally. In default of possession, illusion can be had, and more cheaply. It is possession only which costs. Illusion can be had on easy terms, though the final end of deception is failure and misery.

Happiness must be earned, like other good things, else it cannot be held. It can be deserved only where its price has been somehow paid. Nothing worth having is given away in this world, nor in any other that we know of. No one rides empty headed on the road to happiness. Those who try to do so, never reach their destination. They are left in the dumps.

It is probably too much to say that all of human misery can be traced to air-headed habits. Misery has as many phases as humanity. But it is probably not be far from the truth. No one is ever miserable who would truly pay the price of happiness. No one is really miserable who has not tried to cheapen life.

The price which every good and perfect gift demands, we would somehow or another get out of paying. But we can never cheat the gods. Their choicest gifts lie not on the bargain counters. Our reward comes with our effort. It is part of the same process. In this matter, we get what we deserve, meted out with the justice of eternity.

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