There is such an emphasis on happiness in our culture. We're told to choose to be happy, to only be with people that make us happy, to only pursue things that will give us happiness and that if we are not constantly happy, we are robbing ourselves of something we deserve. Whether I've known it or not, this sense of self-entitled happiness has influenced the way I've judged my own life choices, feeling guarded and self-conscious of them especially since many of my said choices seem contrary to the pursuit of happiness.
Is it possible to do something you feel is RIGHT even if the pain it brings you makes it look WRONG? Is it possible to feel at peace with a decision that seems weak and masochistic from the outside? Is it possible to feel secure in a choice even while acknowledging how difficult the resulting pain is? Could it be that life is about more then mere happiness?
I read this article this weekend and J and I ended up discussing it at length. It talks about Viktor Frankel, a psychiatrist from Vienna who lived through the holocaust and counseled suicidal fellow inmates in his concentration camp. Upon his release, he wrote "Man's Search for Meaning" which posits that having meaning in life is greater than being happy. That it gives value to suffering and transcends circumstances. The article points out that meaning often involves self sacrifice and requires a long-term view.
For example, studies have shown that having children dramatically lowers one's level of personal happiness. Parents have higher levels of stress, less money, sleep, and leisure time than their childless counterparts. And yet people with children report high levels of joy, satisfaction, and meaning in their roles as parents. In this case, meaning trumps happiness.
I believe that the soul recognizes truth when it sees it, and this article spoke to my soul. Meaning-- the belief that there is something larger than ourselves at work-- calms all of those questions of "why?" that haunt me in the dark of the night (or after i foolishly watch the evening news).
I believe that I came to this mortal existence with the goal of coming out of the experience having become a certain type of person. A humble person. A faithful person. A generous and loving person. That isn't to say I can't be happy along the way, but it only makes sense that the larger purpose will require hardships in order for me to change. I think the challenge is always to let go of my desire for personal happiness and keep my eye on the meaning behind the hard things.
It's only then that I can give up happiness and embrace peace and joy.