“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”. — Victor Frankl
The above quote was written by a prominent psychiatrist and neurologist who was arrested and sent to a Nazi concentration camp in 1942. Tragically, his parents and wife perished, but he, prisoner number 119104, lived. He wrote these words after his experiences in the camps and later went on to write, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” voted one of the most influential books in the U.S. by the Library of Congress in 1991.
Frankl also wrote, “it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’”
Over 50 years later, the “pursuit of happiness” is still at the core of almost every endeavor. Google “how to be happy,” and you will receive 2,390,000,000 results. Search Amazon for “happiness books” and you’ll find enough books to keep you busy for the rest of your life.
Ironically, the fervid quest for happiness begets less happiness, increased dissatisfaction and an inability to appreciate life.
In a recent study, The Journal of Positive Psychology asked nearly 400 Americans whether or not they thought their lives had meaning and/or if they were happy. The researchers, examining attitudes toward meaning, stress, finances and having children found that although happiness and leading a meaningful life may seem synonymous, they are in fact, quite different. The psychologists ultimately found that leading a happy life is associated mostly with being a “taker” and leading a meaningful life corresponded with being a “giver.”
Perhaps we’ve had enough experience in life to know that this is true without having to read a study. Perhaps not. Either way, we all have to make a choice. What are we going to dedicate our lives to – the pursuit of happiness or leading a meaningful life?
In my experience, those who live to give, to help others, to add meaning, to bring joy, to make what they touch better, regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in and without concern to “find” happiness, are those who lead happy, fulfilling, meaningful lives.