In Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl drew on the experiences of concentration camp prisoners. He found that those who survived were not the ones who pursued happiness as an end in itself, but the ones who had a goal in life. Meaning, not pleasure was the key. This can be a great comfort if you’re facing hard times. It is much easier to find “meaning” in hard times than “happiness.”
Jay McDaniel, a theologian and author of the book Living from the Center, calls happiness a “byproduct not a goal”: “…many people can live very meaningful lives,” he wrote, “pursuing quite worthy goals, without being particularly happy, if ‘happiness’ means pleasant states of consciousness. Consider the person who is deeply compassionate, sharing in the sorrows of others, and who, precisely through her sharing, cannot sleep well at night. In her empathy for others, she knows the happiness of communion with others, but not the happiness of pleasure.”
Would U.S. culture have been different if the authors of the Declaration of Independence had written, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Meaning?”
It is worth thinking about.