Recently I read an interesting article in The Dallas Morning News written by Emily Esfahani Smith, an associate editor at The New Criterion, about happiness. We all know the importance of happiness in our lives. We strive for it every day, but happiness is not all we should be looking for.
In her article, Smith said that in addition to happiness, we should strive for meaning in our lives: That in the long run, meaning will help us over the difficult times more than happiness. To support her point, she cited the example of Viktor Frankl, a prominent psychiatrist in Vienna who was put in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942, along with his whole family.
Frankl survived the three years of imprisonment, and went on to write a book in 1946, Man’s Search for Meaning. In the book, he outlines what he believed was the difference between those who survived and those who didn’t, and that difference, in most cases, was “meaning.” Frankl wrote, “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.'”
When I read Smith’s article, it reminded me of what I learned when I studied to be a hospital chaplain. We learned that having a sense of being worthwhile is as important for humans to thrive as food and water and shelter. At the time I took the classes, that surprised me, as I had never thought anything was essential beyond the three basics.
However, as we explored the concept, it became clear that people are more content, and able to face life’s challenges better when they feel significant, when their life has meaning. Finding meaning in life can take many forms. It might be as simple as being part of a loving relationship that is nurturing, not destructive, or having a job that brings as much satisfaction as income, and/or sharing time and talent helping others. It is something that feeds your spirit and makes you smile and say “ahhh” at the end of a busy day.
I wasn’t surprised when I read Smith’s article, and I join her in urging people to strive for meaning as much as happiness. Happiness can be fleeting, but meaning stays with us.
The important things in my life that feed my spirit are my family, my current gig as farmer, and my creative outlets.
What are some of yours?
By the way, Frankl’s book is still in print. Well worth the read.