Chasing Our Tails? The Pursuit of Happiness

Are you happy? Does your life have meaning?

These are two very different questions, and for the most part, many of us have been chasing the wrong rabbit. And when we catch it, it isn’t so satisfying after all.

Happiness is in the now; its all about me; it results when an appetite is temporarily satisfied.

Meaning is altogether different, and far more healthy and life-enhancing–for ourselves and others, in the long run. And many of us don’t have and don’t know how to go about bringing meaning into the center of our lives.

…according to the Center for Disease Control, about 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Forty percent either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose. Nearly a quarter of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful. Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research. “It is the very pursuit of happiness,” Frankl knew, “that thwarts happiness.”

So this is one of the “Road Less Traveled” topics I would have developed into a column, if I was still doing that; or if the blog was still the place for that.

And, it’s something that would be (will be?) a twig off the memoirish parts of the Floyd County Almanac, when and if…

So for now, I think this Atlantic article titled “There’s More to Life Than Happiness,” from which the quote above was taken, bears more thought–at least for me–and I offer it to you for your own digestion and metabolism. 

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Victor Frankl really is an inspiration (grand understatement).

    Regarding the Atlantic link and the thought that Americans are commanded to be happy, I often gravitate to European films because there isn’t the neatly wrapped up Hollywood ending–European directors and writers tend to say more about “real life” and all of its nuances. Funnily enough, I often think of a line from a Madonna song (of all places!): “Who needs a smile when a tear’s so full of love?” And my favorite books are all tragedies of a sort.

    I’m happy (yes, happy!) that I’ve found meaning in what I do, even if it didn’t happen until I hit my 40’s!

  2. IMHO, we waste far too much time and energy worrying about whether we are happy and far too much time and energy worrying about how stressed we are. These items of self-absorption stem, I believe, from our having too much time on our hands. We can fulfill the basic needs of life (and many of the wants) so easily that we become self-absorbed. This is the disease of our era!
    Cop Car

  3. Yup, too much time to spend on thinking about yourself leads to ruminating about bad stuff. I really pursue dooing things that feel meaningful to me, both to keep my mind off myself and to give me my sense of worth, meaning, purpose whatever you call it. My husband like to do as little as possible, and his approach works reasonably well for him. It benefits me because it helps slow me down so I take better care of myself than I would if I lived alone.

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