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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?
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.”