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Friday, January 11, 2013

Happiness and Meaning

There has been lots of talk about happiness these days.

One of the latest articles I read used Viktor Frankl (Man's Search for Meaning) to insist that the pursuit of meaning is much more important than the pursuit of happiness.

Well, yes, if you define happiness as simply satisfying carnal desires. But Hannah Arendt taught that Jefferson's phrase "the pursuit of happiness" primarily referred to "public happiness"meaning the fulfillment of the human capacity for action in concert with others (also her definition of "power" over control or force or influence). She also taught that the trivial life was a life without thinking.

My own approach to happiness (eudaimonia, well being) is more inclusive. I am perhaps influenced by Mazlow's hierarchy of human needs that starts with basic survival needs of life and moves up to self-actualization. One cannot pursue meaning as well if that person is starving and does not have health or adequate shelter even though Frankl demonstrated how it could be done even in a Nazi concentration camp. That is why it makes sense for a society to ensure that all its members have the means of livelihood, even if that means risking that some people, limiting happiness with satisfying carnal desires, will not move on from there to productivity and meaning.

My approach is holistic. The pursuit of happiness weaves bodily pleasure with meaning in life and action. It is the experience of transcendence, which, once again, does not mean a transcendent entity or realm, but does mean hope, an openness to the future, to progressive change, the pursuit of personal and public happiness itself.

Joy to the world!