Friday, September 24, 2010

What are you seeking?

Whenever I'm having a slow day at work I try to spend the time reading about things I can use to enhance my skills as a therapist.  Last week I attended a training on the spiritual and existential impact of trauma.  The speaker mentioned Victor Frankl (among other people) and his contributions to existential psychology.  I'd previously read some of Frankl's work and was interested in his ideas.  I found myself with a bit of free time the other day when a patient cancelled at the last minute and decided to do a little delving into Frankl's teachings.

I stumbled upon an e-book published by the Maritime Institute of Logotherapy ( in Nova Scotia entitled "Life with Meaning."  I thought I'd share one of the ideas that really stood out for me.  Here goes...

How many people do you suppose spend their lives in the pursuit of happiness?  As an American, I need only to look at my country's Declaration of Independence to be assured of my inaleinable right to seek or create happiness for myself.  The human desire to be happy is certainly understandable but, according to Frankl, it is misguided.  Happiness, Frankl asserts, is not a goal that can be achieved; those who perceive it as such are likely to be disappointed, again and again.

I think many of us can relate to this.  We believe that graduating from college, getting a good job, making a lot of money, getting married, travelling the world, etc. will make us happy.  At the moment we attain what we have desired we do, in fact, feel "happy."  But the feeling is short-lived; once the novelty wears off we realize that nothing has changed.  Perhaps we identify something else that we believe will make us happy and go after it.  This will ultimately lead to more disappointment.  Still, many of us will perpetuate this cycle -- pursuing goal after goal in the hopes that, once attained, they will bring us happiness -- indefinitely.  It is, after all, our inaleinable right to do so.

Frankl, however, asserts a truth that is profound in its simplicity:

"...Happiness can not be directly attained, it can not be pursued.  Rather, it must ensue as the consequence of having experienced, or accomplished something meaningful, or having met one's fate with a courageous attitude" ("Life with Meaning," pg. 23). 

In other words, happiness is a natural byproduct of living a meaningful life.  Instead of searching for happiness, our time would be better spent doing things that we find meaningful, for this is what brings true, lasting happiness in life. 

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