Beyond Happy. . .
If you have ready The Daily Buddha for any length of time then you are familiar with my approach that happiness isn’t necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be. Or put another way, in terms of one’s overall quality of life, spirit, and degree of personal fulfillment, some things play a much more significant role than feelings of happiness.
In my freshman year of college I read a book that changed my life. It was at the time the most important book that I had ever read, and it continues to be to this day. It’s entitled, Man’s Search for Meaning and it was written in 1946 by the Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist, Viktor Frankl. His life experience in German concentration camps led to some critical thinking.
What Frankl personally witnessed and experienced during his incarceration led him to a conclusion that to this day stands as one of the most succinct and profound statements ever written about the human condition. That is that everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.
He claimed that those prisoners who suffered the physical and mental cruelties of the camps and managed to survive also tended to be the ones who sought and found the wherewithal to share the little they had, a comforting word, a crust of bread, or an act of simple kindness with others. Giving to others was of course not a guarantee of survival, but it was a way of sustaining a sense of purpose and meaning in the face of overwhelmingly brutal conditions. Without purpose of meaning, our life spirit diminishes and we become more vulnerable to physical and mental stressors.
While there may be times when the ability to choose to feel happy doesn’t seem available to us, there is never a time in which we lack the ability to choose our attitude. Frankl’s life, more so than his written words, affirms that we all possess the power to make and act on this choice. It was, beyond any fragment of a doubt, a life well-lived.
Peace and Love, Jim
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