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Alex Lindsay Jr., 10, member of the Young America League, who plays football for the Wolf Pack Club, 1939.
Alex Lindsay Jr., 10, who plays football for the Wolf Pack Club, Denver, Colo., 1939.Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Alex Lindsay Jr., 10, member of the Young America League, who plays football for the Wolf Pack Club, 1939.
Daughters of the American Revolution convention, Atlanta, 1948.
Howard University cheerleader Alfreda Young, 1948.
Little girl and her toys on sidewalk, 1948.
Students attend services at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, New York, 1939.
Kay Lindsay vacationing, 1941.
Bob Esbenshade holds a pair of Hampshire piglets on a farm in Lancaster County, Pa., 1943.
Long Island teenagers Jane Fest and Irma Olswang receive flowers to wear to formal dress Christmas party, 1943.
English major Helen Johnson, 18, a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and a junior at the University of Kansas, 1939.
Seven-year-old Billy Mott licks postal stamps in to his Savings Bond book, 1948.
The Winkles and their dog Witey, Hamilton, Ohio, 1943.
Smith College coed Ann Teal wearing her hair in pigtails, 1941.
Coed Merrilyn Olson and date Brooks Conrad watching Wisconsin-Marquette football game, 1939.
Two debutantes making their debut at cotillion at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York, 1946.
Miss America pageant winner Bess Myerson, 1945.
A sailor talks to a loved one from a GI phone center in Times Square, 1944.
Steelworker Andy Lopata, 1946.
Waterbury Dancing School, Conn., 1945.
Private Charles Accordino and bride Mary Herrick at the New York Marriage License Bureau, 1943.
Cool drink of water, 1947.
Alex Lindsay Jr., 10, who plays football for the Wolf Pack Club, Denver, Colo., 1939.
Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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The Pursuit of Happiness, Seen Through a Great Photographer's Lens

Jun 27, 2013

One phrase associated with America's Declaration of Independence—"the pursuit of happiness"—has long been something of a sticking point in any discussion of what our unalienable rights really are. Here, LIFE.com recalls a feature that ran in LIFE magazine seven long decades ago, when the editors convened a round table of heavy thinkers to tackle the slippery question: What does the "pursuit of happiness" actually mean?

[MORE: See Jeffrey Kluger's article, "The Happiness of Pursuit"]

Rather than reprinting the entire article, however, we've chosen to focus on one engaging visual aspect of the feature—namely, 20 photographs, all of them made by one well-known LIFE photographer, that capture the face of happiness in many of its various guises. As LIFE wrote in that July 12, 1948, issue, the pictures are emblems of "some happy moments that Alfred Eisenstaedt photographed over a number of years. . . . In a casual way they illustrate the great scope of the American pursuit of happiness—ranging from religious dedication and honors on the college campus to beauty contests and touchdowns."

It is asserted in the Declaration of Independence that men are endowed with three "unalienable rights"—Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The first two terms of this remarkable formula are familiar enough; but the third term, the Pursuit of Happiness, is much more difficult to grasp. Not only is it unique within the American system, it has received relatively little attention from political theorists. So the question arises: What does the Third Right mean? Few really know.

Can the Third Right really be applied in our time? Do we know how to use it? Are we exercising it in such a way as to build a better society? Or are we, through carelessness or selfishness, pursuing happiness so as to corrupt and undermine the great heritage that Jefferson left us when he helped found our democracy?

Pursuit of Happiness, Alfred EisenstaedtAlfred Eisensteadt—LIFE Magazine 
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