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The Pursuit of Happiness: Taking joy in the 4th

By Dan Cullinane
Freelance Writer

Does how we celebrate the fourth of July adequately reflect why we celebrate? Johnson County residents reflect.Unlike most questions, “What does the 4th of July mean to you?” is almost uniformly answered with the words “freedom” or “independence.” These are true and sincere answers, but not complete ones.We honor the sacrifices of our founding fathers, which gave us this country we love, in many ways, not the least of which is celebrating the “pursuit of happiness.” Along with life and liberty, this was a core human right in their eyes. Our families, homes, and communities are vital to this pursuit of happiness, and they are reflected in how we celebrate this uniquely American holiday. 

19-year-old Megan Pardue’s reminiscence on a favorite 4th of July memory has little to do with history but everything to do with our forefathers’ vision.

“When I was younger, we went across the road to our field,” she said. “We built a fire and cooked hot dogs over it. We had some camp chairs and blankets, and we shot off some fireworks. We made s’mores and played with sparklers, and it was just fun.”

In those small joys lie the “why” behind the bigger issues of freedom, as John Cunningham points out.

“It’s a celebration of our independence, not just as a country, but also individually,” he said. 

Unlike other countries, where pomp and circumstance rule, here the family is at the heart of commemorating our founding principles. 

“What I’m looking forward to is spending the 4th of July with my Dad for the first time in thirty years,” Annette Garland said. “He lives in Indiana, and I can’t tell you the last time I spent a holiday with him.” 

For Pauleen Kidd, family is central to her celebration as well.

“We’re doing a great-American campout in my backyard,” she said. “Family from four states, a barbecue, and a bonfire, and just a great time.”

A healthy pursuit of happiness is often not a serious business either, so shrugging off a tendency to be somber, is not misplaced.

“My mom is a British citizen,” Jennifer Krause said. “So for me, it’s extra special. My Mom is the colonist, and I’m the rebel, so every year, I wish her a happy Independence Day.”

Cunningham recalls a young niece undercutting the seriousness, when after an hour-long fireworks show, she turned around and said, “Well, that was a stupid movie.”   
Laughter, those unexpected outbursts, and the unabashed enthusiasm of kids are founding principles by another name. For Cristy Dunn, a time to reflect on who we are as a country is the reason for the 4th but watching her children enjoy the parade and fireworks gives it meaning. 

“It’s about families getting together,” Eunice Snyder said. “When the grandkids were little, we’d have everyone at the house, cooking out, and then we’d go to the park for the fireworks. When you have small children around, it makes every holiday so much more fun.”

Occasionally, we may take ourselves too seriously and scold one another about how our backyard barbecues and fireworks displays are not important enough for the day we are celebrating. But the great and important words about freedom and the sacrifices then and ongoing to protect it are reflected in the joy we share in our families, our communities, and, by extension, our nation.