“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Happiness can be found in life’s simplest moments. My morning coffee. A walk in the woods. Giving belly rubs to my dogs. Sharing a laugh over a glass of wine with a friend (even if it’s over Zoom). If it’s so simple to find happiness, why do so many of us spend so much time and effort looking for what we think eludes us? The pursuit of happiness, in and of itself, can be a futile search and most often will not lead us there.
Sometimes, as in the face of a global pandemic, in the pursuit of happiness or grand purpose, we can end up making ourselves more unhappy, agitated, and unfulfilled. In a time where “true” happiness seems more unattainable than ever, how can we move out of this seemingly endless cycle? When searching for happiness, we often look outside of ourselves (what can I get?); however when we are in search of meaning, we look to what we can do for others (what can I give?). Click here to read my recent post on the intersection of happiness and meaning.
“The true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche.”
-Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Victor E. Frankl, a world-renowned psychiatrist who survived four concentration camps during the Holocaust, provides that crucial answer. Focusing on our life’s meaning transforms our very humanity and shapes the development of our personal identity. Frankl’s incredible endurance in the face of the brutality of the Holocaust is remarkable to say the least, yet we can relate to him on the most basic of levels: in times of acute suffering, we are forced to confront our impetus for living; pinpointing the “why” that drives us forward.
In our own small ways, we can each take encouragement from Frankl’s important message: the moment we step outside our minds for even a brief moment, we can find exquisite meaning in our everyday lives. No matter how isolated we may feel during this time of hardship, finding meaning in our lives brings us connection and fulfillment. And we will surely find happiness along the way. The more we serve causes beyond ourselves — volunteering for organizations that are important to us, supporting a salient undertaking or movement, advocating for social issues — the more we flourish, grow, and self-actualize. Perhaps this year, instead of pursuing happiness, we focus on building out our connections in search of meaning in our daily lives and in our communities.
“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”
What I’m Believing: There’s More to Life Than Being Happy
In her TedTalk, Emily Esfahani Smith argues that we are guaranteed to find life’s meaning through embracing four principles:
1) belonging: valuing yourself and others in relationships
2) purpose: using your strengths to serve others
3) transcendence: feeling connected to a higher reality
4) storytelling: the story you curate about yourself
While happiness is a fleeting emotion, the search for meaning is an ongoing and developing process — one that allows us to evolve into the best versions of ourselves.
What I’m Watching: Pixar’s Soul
Soul is a masterclass on how to live life to the fullest and relish in our routines. It teaches us how to “live as if you were living already for the second time,” as Viktor E. Frankl puts it. This message couldn’t be more relevant in the face of our quarantined existence, where everyday life sometimes seems uneventful and redundant. When asked, “How will you spend your life”, Joe says “I don’t know, but I do know that I will live every minute of it”. There are always ways to find meaning and fulfillment in the mundane, if you know where to look.
Who Inspires Me: Amanda Gorman
You can find the entire transcript of Amanda’s inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” here.