“Are you happy with your life?” It’s the question Marta and I asked each other as we recently drove the eight hours from Charlottesville down to a new favorite place in the Low Country. Rather than a simple Yes or No, the question provokes deeper reflection into the many parts of our lives that make up the whole.
How about you? Are you happy with your life? Are you happy about . . .
Relationships with those closest to you . . . your friendships . . . your work colleagues?
Your job . . . your career trajectory . . . your work results?
Play . . . hobbies . . . relaxation . . . rest?
Daily rituals and rhythms . . . your attitude . . . conversations you have with yourself?
The Bucket List?
If you read my book this year, you know that I emphasize the dominant role awareness plays in growth and change. If you aren’t aware of something that is wrong, or simply “off,” you can’t do anything about it. So look at your life through this lens of Happiness and see where you stand. What aspects are you really happy with; which ones are a downer?
Now, you may stop there – simply evaluating your happiness. Some people do: “All I care about in life is being happy.” For them, happiness is the goal. I’m instead suggesting it as a lens for self-awareness, here at the turn in the year.
In November we read about the death of Tony Hsieh, who was three months into retirement as co-founder and former CEO of Zappos. While his death was ruled an accident, media reports paint a picture of a very wealthy man who was still chasing happiness right up to the incident that took his life. Does wealth bring happiness? Does power? Fame? Freedom? Seven years prior, Hsieh had written a NYT bestseller titled Delivering Happiness.
So I don’t stop with just an evaluation of “Am I living a happy life?”
Another lens through which to look is this – “Am I living a meaningful life?”
I raised this subject at the dinner table last week with Marta and our adult kids. First of all, what IS a meaningful life? That is worth pondering, perhaps with your loved ones.
One thought at our table: “To simply live is meaningful.” Simple but profound.
Another: “A meaningful life is to love, because love is eternal.”
My reflection: To only pursue a happy life is ultimately a selfish act – it’s all about me. But to pursue a meaningful life is about my life . . . for others.
Victor Frankl contemplated what it is to live a meaningful life while in the pit of unhappiness. He lost his father, his mother and finally his wife at a succession of three camps during the Holocaust. Needless to say, he lost everything else in those years – his profession, his possessions, any sense of physical fitness and of course his freedom. Observing the human brutality and degradation around him, Frankl theorized that it was those inmates who had some meaning or purpose in their lives who were more likely to survive.
Later, in the now classic Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote: “Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself.”
Pursue a cause greater than yourself; happiness becomes “the unintended side-effect.”
This has been a great reminder to me as I reflect on 2020 and plan for 2021. Perhaps you will find it helpful too. See you in the new year!