Feb. 5th, 2015

tranquilityseekers: ecstasy (trancendence)
Every once in a while, I find an article somewhere that just nails something I've been thinking or feeling for a long time, and I feel compelled to share it and write about it. The most recent example of that is here:

www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy/266805/

The article begins and ends with the example of a psychiatrist/neurologist, Victor Frankl, who was imprisoned in the Nazi camps back in WW2, and what he noticed of those who were suicidal or gave up and died, and those who managed to survive despite the deprivation and horror. He counseled people while interred, and learned much about the deeper meaning of the human condition and the will to survive. Later, he wrote a very influential book, Man's Search For Meaning.

Article quotes:

"As he saw in the camps, those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not. "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing," Frankl wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." "

The choice to forge ahead through unbearable circumstances is possible, but you have to have a reason to do it. A purpose to make it all worthwhile.

"In 1991, the Library of Congress and Book-of-the-Month Club listed Man's Search for Meaning as one of the 10 most influential books in the United States. It has sold millions of copies worldwide. Now, over twenty years later, the book's ethos -- its emphasis on meaning, the value of suffering, and responsibility to something greater than the self -- seems to be at odds with our culture, which is more interested in the pursuit of individual happiness than in the search for meaning. "To the European," Frankl wrote, "it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to 'be happy.' But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to 'be happy.'" "

This is one of those aspects of modern life as an American that makes me feel at odds and out of touch with most of those around me. It drives me absolutely bananas that there is an expectation, a societal pressure, to be happy-- or, if not, to at least fake it! To not do so marks one as somehow flawed. No, worse-- as intrinsically defective in some way. It is as if even reminding others of anything besides the one acceptable mind-state is a criticism of our very existence as humans.

That unhappiness may be stemming from entirely justified circumstances is overlooked completely. Why reach out and help the underlying cause of depression when its so much easier and cheaper (not to mention profitable) to just throw drugs at the issue? "Shut up and stop bothering us!" is the message I've always received when I dared to be less than content. I am absolutely convinced that this reflexive selfishness is a sickness that is being encouraged to our collective detriment, leaving countless individuals damaged, or at the very least, feeling empty.

"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." "

And why should this be..? Seems counter-intuitive. You want happiness, you go for it, you end up more miserable? Explain please.

"Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a "taker" while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a "giver." 

"Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided," the authors write."

Huh. Why am I not surprised? =^/

"How do the happy life and the meaningful life differ? Happiness, they found, is about feeling good. Specifically, the researchers found that people who are happy tend to think that life is easy, they are in good physical health, and they are able to buy the things that they need and want. While not having enough money decreases how happy and meaningful you consider your life to be, it has a much greater impact on happiness. The happy life is also defined by a lack of stress or worry.

Most importantly from a social perspective, the pursuit of happiness is associated with selfish behavior -- being, as mentioned, a "taker" rather than a "giver." The psychologists give an evolutionary explanation for this: happiness is about drive reduction. If you have a need or a desire -- like hunger -- you satisfy it, and that makes you happy. People become happy, in other words, when they get what they want.
"


Socially, we've been conditioned to believe that the whole point of existence is this very thing. Before we die, we must consume and find happiness in consuming. On a finite planet with limited resources, raping it to the point of damaging our future survival is okay according to this mindset, because we're all going to die anyway. We're machines without souls (so goes the paradigm) so nothing else matters but drive reduction. There IS NO MEANING is what we are told in countless ways by those who seek to SELL us something. And it works. Most have bought this dark philosophy hook, line, and sinker.

"...meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants. People who have high meaning in their lives are more likely to help others in need. "If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need,""

Every religion the world over seems to have this basic idea behind the rituals, rites, and rules: help others and don't make it all about you all the time. Could it be that the fundamental wisdom of helping others and thereby finding meaning is almost universal with humans?

"...in the meaningful life "you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self."  ...People whose lives have high levels of meaning often actively seek meaning out even when they know it will come at the expense of happiness. Because they have invested themselves in something bigger than themselves, they also worry more and have higher levels of stress and anxiety in their lives than happy people."

You have more stress and anxiety because you give a shit! Big shock. The older I get the more convinced I am that the meaning of life is to CARE. And then act upon those things you care about. Care with empathy and do something to express that, to alleviate the pain and assist in the many challenges of life in this world. When you do, the trials and tribulations that bring you down fail to touch you with the same power as before.

"Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment -- which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning. 

Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. "Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life," the researchers write. "Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future." That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy."

I feel as if this is validation and vindication of something I've felt most of my life. Since my teens at least! When I was facing so many hardships and craziness, ultimately what helped me to pull through and continue pushing forth my will into the world was the need to make a difference somehow. I didn't want my brief life on Earth to be for nothing. I wanted to contribute something unique from me to anyone who could possibly use whatever I had to offer. Just as my own spirit was buoyed and inspired by others before me.

That's one reason I find fault with the constant pursuit of a mentality fully concentrated "in the now." I know that keeping your attention on the present keeps stress at bay and improves your focus, and its good to be able to do that. But one must also set aside time to compare, contrast, contemplate, and put it all together. You look back on the past to learn from past mistakes, to understand what you failed to understand before as a younger, more naive, you-- and create a narrative about your own life. And only by realizing what patterns may lead to in the future can you prevent repeating mistakes or causing avoidable damage. Looking ahead means finding a path as you continue your own personal quest of meaning.

On a less high-minded note, I have noticed how often those I've known who only cared about pleasure, ease, and avoiding anything negative end up being users, players, and untrustworthy companions-- because taking the easiest path often led them to betray and cause pain at a moment's notice.

Its true highly thoughtful people may not always be jolly, but the kindest examples of humanity I knew were unafraid to weep for others and to offer comfort and practical help in some way. And it is their example, rather than the relentless messages of our current culture, that I grasped to my heart and reached for in spirit.

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