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A Meaningful Life, or a Happy One?
GIVE UP THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS … And Look for Meaning Instead
How many books have you seen with the word “happiness” in the title? A lot, right? It’s such a popular topic because the pursuit, journey, and, ultimately, achievement of happiness is supposed to be the key to a fulfilling life. Happiness is the ultimate human condition; reaching it is our purpose and will bring us contentment.
Frankl, this meant providing therapy to others in the camp. As Frankl puts it, once a person finds meaning, they know the “why” of their existence, and they will be able to bear almost any “how.” In the years since “Man’s Search for Meaning” was written, it seems we’ve forgotten a lot of its advice. The Centers for Disease Control found that four out of every 10 Americans do not have a satisfying life purpose, and yet, 60 percent of Americans say they are happy. What gives? It comes down to the pursuit of happiness versus pursuing meaning in life. It’s the difference between “I’m going to buy this dress because it will make me happy” and “I’m going to volunteer at a shelter because it will be meaningful.” Happiness involves satisfying an immediate need, whereas finding meaning focuses on making choices that give us a sense of purpose. Even more telling, the Journal of Positive Psychology found that meaningful acts usually involve giving, but reaching happiness often means taking. Because of this, leading a meaningful life, while often more challenging, is also more satisfying. Is it possible that the pursuit of a meaningful life will lead us to happiness? Absolutely. Just don’t expect it to be an everlasting condition. Think of happiness the way psychologist Frank T. McAndrew does: “Recognizing that happiness exists — and that it’s a delightful visitor that never overstays its welcome — may help us appreciate it more when it arrives.”
But before you pick up that guide to happiness, there’s some new data you need to pay attention to. Turns out, we’ve been focusing on the wrong goal. More and more research is supporting the benefit of pursuing a meaningful life over a happy one. Viktor Frankl could be called a leading expert on the topic. Frankl lived through the Holocaust in a concentration camp and saw firsthand how humans deal with unhappy circumstances. As a respected psychiatrist, his observations became the basis for his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl found that the people who stood the best chance of surviving the horrific experience were those who saw some sort of meaning in their lives, even under the bleakest circumstances. For
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