A Meaningful, Unhappy Life?
Maybe it's just this stage of life we are all hitting. From where I sit, it seems like the twenties tend to be the idealistic years, the thirties tend to be the years of pushing yourself through troubles, but the forties... those are the years when deep fatigue hits. Maybe it's because our bodies are wearing down, or maybe it's just that old mid-life crisis thing, but a lot of people in my age group seem to finally admit that they can't keep holding the ropes that hold together the sides of their lives.
For many forty-somethings, what we have loved most is suddenly threatened. Maybe it's a beloved teenager who decides to try out some dangerous ideas. Maybe it's a spouse who abandons us emotionally or physically. Maybe a job is lost, or a trusted friend betrays us. Maybe this is the year a wife finally accepts her infertility. Maybe this is the year a single man decides to give up the search for a spouse. The reasons are varied, but as I listen to story after story, I find that many lives that have taken an unexpected, difficult turn. What do we do when life is so difficult that we can't make ourselves happy?
Yesterday I ran into one Keller's ideas that has challenged me in this area. He focuses on the difference between having a happy life and having a meaningful life. I'm going to include a quote of his below, then ask two questions at the bottom of this post.
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"Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived three years in the Nazi death camps, observed how some of his fellow prisoners were able to endure the horror and pass through it while others could not. The difference came down to what Frankl called meaning. The problem is that contemporary people think life is all about finding happiness. We decide what conditions will make us happy and then we work to bring those conditions about. To live for happiness means that you are trying to get something out of life. But when suffering comes along, it takes the conditions for happiness away, and so suffering destroys all your reason to keep living. But to “live for meaning” means not that you try to get something out of life but rather that life expects something from us. In other words, you have meaning only when there is something in life more important than your own personal freedom and happiness, something for which you are glad to sacrifice your happiness."
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1. What if, instead of working so hard to try to make ourselves happy, we looked for meaningfulness during hard times, instead? What pressures would that relieve? What sort of distractions would it reduce?
2. Also, is it possible to have a sort of joy or peace even when you are unhappy? How are joy and peace connected to meaningfulness?
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Painting: "Rough Seas" by Eugene Boudin (1885)