Do you search for meaning? Are you plagued by a feeling of emptiness? Do you search for purpose? Are you chasing happiness or something else entirely? What is it that you want for yourself or for your life?
These are the questions that I’ve been preoccupied with lately.
At first, I had no idea how I wanted to discuss the subject of happiness and meaning. It wasn’t until I noticed a flyaway post on Facebook that I had an idea of where to start. It was a cute post of two boys standing on pedestals after an unknown competition. The boy on the left looked unhappy. In his hand, he held a 1st place label absentmindedly. He had a frown directed at the the boy next to him. In stark contrast, this boy’s face radiated joy, and he held his label up proudly. It was a 3rd place label. The caption read: happiness is a state of mind.
Have you seen it?
In any case, Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” came to mind immediately. Frankl was a renown psychiatrist that survived the Nazi death camps during World War II, and he lived on to help humanity find meaning in the act of living. He says, “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” (Frankl 66). Humanity has the fundamental choice to decide what will become of him or her both mentally and spiritually. This mental and spiritual freedom - or self-determination - cannot be taken away. In turn, it can make life meaningful and purposeful.
Will this lead to happiness?
These days, I’m not sure I believe in happiness. It’s such a static concept when I analyze it deeply. Happily Ever After doesn’t account for the complexities and fluctuations of life and existence. It’s an extremely romanticized notion constantly reinforced by social norms, consumerism, entertainment, etc. Don’t get me wrong. I still hold hope for humanity. The conditions of human existence can be better, can be improved, but I doubt they could ever truly be happy.
The idea of happiness as it exists in most of our minds precludes frustration. Frankl speaks of an “existential frustration” (100). Existential frustration is rooted in three human preoccupations: existence itself, the meaning of existence, and the search for concrete meaning in personal existence. He calls this “the will to meaning” (Frankl 101).
Was my intrigue with the concepts of happiness, meaning, and purpose the result of a personal period of existential frustration? It sure seems like it.
Apparently, this existential frustration and our concerns “over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease” (Frankl 102). The idea that I was only distressed but not diseased somehow made me feel better. It wasn’t necessarily unhealthy for me to have these thoughts about meaning and purpose. In fact, Frankl indicates that its more than okay to experience this mental tension. It tells us that we are alive, that we have drive, and that we recognize our unfulfilled potential even if only on a subconscious level.
I may be this way today, but I could be different tomorrow.
How do we infuse our life with meaning then?
In “Man’s Search For Meaning,” Frankl outlines how an individual can infuse their life with meaning. His approach is certainly worth researching and reading since it’s centered around building life resilience. What can be taken from it on the whole is that working on something, pursuing new experiences, fostering interpersonal relationships, actualizing creativity, fulfilling responsibilities, giving to a cause are some practical ways to establish meaning. It can be big or small, popular or obscure. Regardless, it should be personal.
It should be a siren-call to your passion.
As for myself, I find that writing stirs my passion. Connecting with others through my writing gives my life meaning. As a result, I’ve decided to co-create with the universe - God or whatever you want to call it - the opportunities to infuse my life with more writing. I may never be happy due to this, but I can have many and frequent happy moments that bring me personal joy, fulfillment, and success.
My own improvised formula: passion + attitude + action = happy moments.
All in all, Viktor Frankl reminds us in his memoir “Man’s Search for Meaning” that our positive or negative attitude leaves a corresponding imprint on the canvas of our life and potentially humanity’s existence “which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions” (134).
All my best, D.
Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. 1959. Beacon Press, 2006.