The Myth of Pursuing Happiness

Are you trying to find happiness and success?  According to Dr. Viktor Frankl, you can’t pursue them directly.  You can only find them as a byproduct of other things. Dr. Frankl, a survivor of four Nazi Germany concentration camps, a neurologist and a psychiatrist developed a new field of psychiatry just prior to being sent to the camps. He had travel papers that would have let him leave Germany for the US but since his parents didn’t have a way to leave Germany, he chose to stay.

In the first part of his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, he talks about his experiences in the camps and in the second part he discusses his theories on logotherapy or healing through meaning. Dr. Frankl says that our search for meaning is our primary motivation in life. In study after study we find that meaning is five times more important to the majority of people than cold hard cash. Studies done in the US, Vienna and France, across different demographics, all say the same thing.  

So, what kinds of things result in happiness and success? According to Dr. Frankl, it is taking selfless actions.  Work without purpose or fulfillment does not qualify.  Dr Frankl quotes Edith Weisskopf-Joelson from her article on logotherapy, “our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for that fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy.” The word unsuccessful could be substituted for unhappy in the previous quote.

It’s how we deal with challenges that define who we are as people. If your life appears boring to you, chances are you don’t have a meaning or purpose behind your actions. What can you do to find meaning and help relieve boredom? You could start with finding work that would provide purpose. If for some reason that’s not possible, find someplace to volunteer where people are worse off than you are. If victims in concentration camps could find meaning in there lives, while prisoners, there’s hope for the rest of us.