What is personal happiness and shall we pursue it?

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Life is a constant struggle for survival. Life can also be considered a journey to personal happiness and freedom. Life is worth living because we are free to pursue our own dreams. This can be contrasted by another ideal, the ideal of sacrificing oneself for the greater good, be it a religious mandate, political or moral goals, or the survival of family and kin.
Growing up Catholic, my own ideals fall somewhere in between. I do believe in the pursued of personal happiness but with a feeling of guilt and with the understanding that sacrifices along the way will always be part of it (and the Catholic Church would have me believe that I will be rewarded for it in Heaven.)
Personal happiness assumes that people are freely acting individuals who are able to think, feel, and behave independently and can achieve some sense of freedom and contentment by just “being.”
The idea of the “freely acting and thinking individual” has been examined and, at times, hotly debated and contested by Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology. One argument in favor is that we can think and act with reason and therefore we are free (for example Immanuel Kant), although our minds constantly switch between a “state of being” and a “state of becoming” (for example Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir), as many of us know and might have experienced when attempting meditation.
Others have argued that we truly are ourselves only because we exist in a society and the idea of the “self” is a reflection of social norms and regulations (e.g. Emile Durkheim). We become a person by reflectively considering how we are seen by others, what society expects of us, and how we might be judged (e.g. Charles H. Cooley, George Herbert Mead). Therefore we are not entirely free and independent and such an ideal is just, well, an illusion.
Furthermore, such freedom would throw us in a state of anxiety and angst, as the psychoanalyst and sociologist Eric Fromm argued in his book “Escape from Freedom.” Fromm pointed out that humans have to be able to stand on their own and love themselves first before they can love others and become truly productive members of society. However, many of us are overwhelmed by the idea of being “free and independent” and use coping mechanisms such as following a leader (which he argued, explained the rise of fascism in Europe in the 20th century) or controlling (the happiness of) others so we don’t feel alone.
Are we throwing out the baby with the bathwater when we clinch on to the idea of personal freedom at the expense of feeling insecure?
Why does the ideal of personal happiness and individual freedom matter?
For one, the human rights doctrine is based on this ideal. It guides us when we engage with others and judge our own actions. But it is not “natural” or “given”. Rather it is a socially mediated and normative imperative and a choice.
This brings me back “down” to life and to my own day-to day struggle to choose between sacrifices and some sense of contentment with just being me. This balance is hard to reach as a mother (and many parents know all too well) – the pendulum swings mostly towards sacrifice. Here again, we have been told that we should be happy when our kids are happy. Another ideal, another choice.
In the end, life is a constant struggle and a journey and is most enjoyable with eyes wide open and an understanding that such things as happiness and freedom are choices as much as they are ideals. We need these ideals but they should not overburden us. As humans we need to rely on one another more than we might want to admit and there is nothing wrong with this.
In fact, we are interdependent and acknowledging such interdependency opens up new freedoms and possibilities of “being.” What do you think?

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