Thomas Jefferson, Famous Pursuiter of Happiness

Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele

Thomas Jefferson was the imaginative and productive founding father responsible for the phrase “pursuit of happiness” in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. He was an Epicurian (“I consider the genuine doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy of which Greece and Rome have left us.” – Letter to William Short, October 31, 1819.) I believe he was an Adventurer in the Enneagram system of personalities. Adventurers typically engage in many interests and activities:

According to Wikipedia, “Jefferson had a love for reading. By 1815, his library included 6,487 books, which he sold to the Library of Congress to replace the smaller collection destroyed in the War of 1812. He was an accomplished architect who helped popularize the Neo-Palladian style in the United States. He was interested in birds and wine, and was a noted gourmet. Jefferson was a prolific writer. He learned Gaelic to translate Ossian, and sent to James Macpherson for the originals. Jefferson invented many small practical devices and improved contemporary inventions. These include the design for a revolving book-stand to hold five volumes at once… Another was the “Great Clock,” powered by the Earth’s gravitational pull on Revolutionary War cannonballs. Jefferson invented a 15 cm long coded wooden cypher wheel, mounted on a metal spindle, to keep secure State Department messages while he was Secretary of State. The messages were scrambled and unscrambled by 26 alphabet letters on each circular segment of the wheel. He improved the moldboard plow and the polygraph, in collaboration with Charles Willson Peale. As Minister to France, Jefferson was impressed by France’s military standardization program known as the Système Gribeauval and later as President initiated a program at the Federal Armories to develop interchangeable parts for firearms.”

Stephen Greenblatt wrote The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, on how Lucretius’ epic poem, “On the Nature of Things” (first century BC), shaped the thought of Galileo, Freud, Darwin, and Einstein and influenced writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare. He says Jefferson owned five copies of the poem. Lucretius believed the Universe was made of units or atoms and was not created by a miracle. He believed in avoiding pain and tried to convince people not to have a fear of death. Presumably Jefferson agreed with him that neither the mind nor spirit can survive independent of the body. So fear of death is a projection of terrors experienced in life, a fear of pain that only a living mind can feel.

Lucretius also says  people who fear the prospect of eternal non-existence after death should think back to the eternity of non-existence before their birth, which they probably do not fear.  Adventurers should find this idea appealing because they look for ways to not be afraid. Certain other types would not be as attracted to such a carefree thought (leaving views handed down by their religion aside, that is).

Adventurers, including Thomas Jefferson, try to fill their lives with positive activities, thoughts, attitudes, and options. When something doesn’t go well for them, they usually get over it rather quickly.

For more Famous People, see my website:

and my Psychology Today blog:

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