Victor Frankl was a brilliant Viennese psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, and author of the best selling book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Victor Frankl once said, “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself–be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself–by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love–the more human he is.”
I read these words, and I find complete brilliance in them. As a psychiatrist, mother, writer, and seeker, I often think about happiness, or wellness. How I can find happiness within myself. How I can foster wellness in my patients. How I can raise happy and well children.
But perhaps my focus has been misguided all along. Dr. Frankl speaks to the importance of leading a meaningful life, rather than a happy one. Meaning is found when we stop looking outward at what can fill our holes, and start looking at how we, holes and all, can serve others. Meaning is when we stop thinking about what we need and what we can take, and instead think about how we can connect deeply and soulfully with our fellow beings.
Happiness feels fleeting, momentary. We feel happy when we receive our paycheck or when we eat a satisfying meal. We feel happy when we lose ten pounds. But just as quickly as it comes, it leaves us, in search of our next fix. Or, we become aware of an uncomfortable attachment to that which brings us happiness, because we know how quickly those attachments can dissolve.
What if, instead of seeking happiness, we sought to live a meaningful life, whatever that looked like for each of us?
Meaning involves making decisions guided by a deeper understanding of our purpose. As such, meaning can sustain us through sleepless nights with sick children, or the pager going off just as we are leaving the office for the day. If we can make a choice to live a life of connection, service, alignment with our core values, perhaps our moods will be less prone to the endless waves of desire and aversion.
What I know is that this type of life, transcending our individual wishes for a greater good, requires us to make conscious choices, maybe even hard choices, every moment of every day.
I also know that I am just beginning to understand what my purpose looks like. Do you know what yours looks like? Maybe it is isn’t a job or a career, but the things that you do when everyone else is sleeping, or a passion that sets your soul on fire, or a certain type of loving that only you know how to do. Maybe the faint outlines of your unique reason for being visit you in your dreams or in the quiet, wandering moments.
I wonder whether living this type of life allows for a deeper, different happiness too…happiness that is heart-felt and sustainable.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to consider the role of meaning in your life. How do meaning and happiness intersect for you? Is there space for both meaning and happiness to co-exist?
For a more in-depth read on Dr. Frankl, a meaningful life, and happiness: http://www.businessinsider.com/a-lesson-about-happiness-from-a-holocaust-survivor-2014-10
With gratitude, Monisha