Meaningfulness vs. Happiness
"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, to choose one's own way."
This quote is very powerful to me. I came across it in an article that I read recently about Viennese psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl. The article was based on Frankl's idea that meaningfulness is more viable choice than happiness. Frankl credits this ideology to his ability to survive the holocaust and to help others find hope in such abominable times.
Frankl would encourage persons experiencing thoughts of suicide in concentration camps by urging them to find the meaning in their lives whether that meaning be contributing to society as a scientist or being a father. Frank believes that the ability to find such meaning was the difference between life and death in the concentration camps.
I'd venture to say that while enduring the horrifying conditions in concentration camps, that happiness was unfathomable. As a result, perhaps meaning was the only thing that prisoners in concentration camps had to draw on.
The article asserts that happiness is simply the result of satisfying needs and desires, that it is a selfish sentiment that involves avoiding difficult situations and is associated with being a taker while meaningfulness is associated with being a giver and involves using your "highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self."
According to Frankl, "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. Frankl goes on to purport that meaningfulness ensues happiness.
I agree that happiness "must ensue" but I do not believe that happiness is a selfish act that involves taking. After all, how can we live a meaningful life as givers if there are no takers? Are the persons benefiting from meaningful giving selfish happiness seekers? Moreover, if happiness ensues from meaningfulness, then how is it selfish? Perhaps we as humans have a drive for meaningfulness that needs to be satisfied, thus, the happiness that ensues from meaningfulness is a result of that satisfaction based on the perspective of this article.
I feel that meaningfulness and happiness are equally important, not necessarily one more than the other. Also, it can take time to find what makes your life meaningful. I'd venture to say that one can still choose to be happy while seeking meaningfulness in life. Also, I believe that it is important to find happiness in life's little pleasures, whether it a glass of wine, my personal favorite, or a football game - each an example of things that bring happiness in life but are not necessarily meaningful based on the definitions explored in this post. We should be allowed to fully enjoy these pleasures without worrying about being "selfish" or "takers." I believe that enjoying life's little pleasures are essential to our self care and that caring for ourselves allows us to be well enough to lead meaningful lives and fulfill our purposes.
Overall, I enjoyed the article. All of the ideas presented in the article were not those of Viktor Frankl. I am inspired by his ideas, resilience and career. So much so, that I ordered his book , Man's Search for Meaningfulness. Frankl wrote this book in just nine days after being released from the concentration camp. It is also considered one of the 10 most influential books of all time. also ordered the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength that was also presented in this article. I look forward to learning more about meaningfulness and happiness.
What do you think? Do you believe that mean Is it more important to choose meaningfulness over happiness or vice versa? Do you believe that happiness must ensue? Comment via Facebook Comments below!