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Chase Meaning, Not Happiness

These days, a lot of people don’t feel totally in control of their choices and their priorities, especially at work. But you do always have the freedom to choose your beliefs about what will make your life worth living.

As Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning upon returning from a brutal concentration camp, where he lost his whole family, including his pregnant wife:

Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

What did Frankl mean by this? He meant that every day–whether we are in a concentration camp or not–we have important choices to make about whether to submit internally to the powerful forces around us; the forces that will rob us of our essential selves if given the chance. To Frankl, it was what prisoners chose to believe and the way that they pursued meaning that gave them the will and strength to endure.

The same can be said of us, living our privileged lives, although the forces that threaten to rob us of our freedoms are obviously much more benign.

Usually, we think we are choosing to pursue happiness, claiming it as our inalienable right. But mountains of research demonstrate that we humans do better pursuing fulfillment and meaning than we do by pursuing happiness.

Frankl was right on many fronts. It turns out that our happiness, success, and productivity at work are dramatically affected by our beliefs about how our work benefits others.

This post is taken from “The Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!