Or, in other words, Meaning > Happiness
The pursuit of happiness isn’t all that is advertised. Don’t get me wrong. I, too, want contentment and to be worry-free. I just don’t think these are great goals and enduring states of being. Chasing down contentment and happiness as permanent states only leads to a wacky wild goose chase, leaving one disappointed. Really, emphasis should be on the phrase “pursuit of,” not the word “happiness.”
In a January 2013 article in The Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith wrote of Viktor Frankl’s continuing relevance to psychology and current research in human health and well-being. She called the reader’s attention to nuances that differentiate happiness and meaning. Happiness is present-oriented and fleeting. Meaning incorporates the past, present, and future. It is more enduring. Recent studies suggest that a meaningful existence doesn’t always equate to maximum happiness. Esfahani Smith concludes:
By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves — by devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking” — we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.
Advocacy, as I see it, is the way a person can focus her time, treasure, talent, and energies toward the pursuit of meaning. Frankl wrote, “The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is.” (Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 1946)
The greatest gift I can bestow on my children is to live my life dedicated to the pursuit of meaning.