What would make you truly happy—a new car, a new job, a different husband or wife, more money, or to be better-looking?
Or maybe you’re a young person and your definition of happiness is to find a special someone, get married and have a family. Maybe your definition of happiness is to become a doctor and help others or perhaps you want to be an entrepreneur and be your own boss.
Now imagine what it would be like to have everything you think would make you happy—and then to suddenly lose it all. That’s exactly what happened to Viktor Frankl.
Viktor Frankl was one of Austria’s most promising and well-known neurologists and psychiatrists in the 1930s. He was highly successful, happily married and admired by his colleagues.
One day his entire life came crashing down as he and his wife found themselves forced from their home, robbed of everything they owned and crammed into a boxcar bound for a German concentration camp. There Frankl was separated from his wife—whom he would never see again—was stripped of his clothes and had all the hair of his body shaved off.
Viktor Frankl would spend the next few years living in indescribable horror. He slept with nine other men in a bed only 6½ to 8 feet wide with no mattress and only two blankets. He received so little food that his body looked like a skeleton with skin. He endured beatings from SS guards and fellow prisoners. He watched countless people suffer and die.
Yet in the midst of the most unbelievable hell on earth, Viktor Frankl claimed to find the important keys to happiness.
What is happiness?
What is your definition of happiness? Be honest with yourself and see if any of these sentences describe your approach to life.
• You constantly suffer from feelings of anger and bitterness toward others and life in general.
• You’re always struggling with perfectionism and feelings of never measuring up.
• You see other people as barriers to your happiness.
• You measure happiness by what you own or how much money you have.
• You are obsessed with your appearance, clothing, jewelry, makeup and body shape.
• You suffer from excessive shyness.
• You have difficulty experiencing meaningful relationships with others.
• You feel stressed much of the time and can’t relax when you’re not busy.
• You are in constant conflict with others and always trying to bend everyone else to your will; you feel that you are right in almost all situations.
• You have a preoccupation with sex outside of marriage.
• You find yourself always comparing yourself with others and judging others by your personal criteria.
• You experience an inability to trust God or even believe that He exists.
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms much of the time, you have to admit you aren’t very happy.
Happiness is an approach to life
Viktor Frankl arrived at some profound conclusions resulting from his experiences in Nazi concentration camps. He concluded that the more a person tried to be happy, the unhappier he or she became.
Instead of trying to be happy, we should be thinking more in terms of becoming spiritually, mentally, socially and physically healthy. This moves us away from becoming increasingly self-centered, and we can begin to understand that there are principles to happiness we can learn.
At this point you may be saying, “But this isn’t what I need to be happy; I need a new girlfriend”—or “a new boss” or “more money!”
It’s true that other people, places or things can give us temporary happiness. It’s also true that other people, or lack of health or deprivation of basic human needs can cause us to suffer and feel unhappy. But if that’s all there is to life, then all of us are no more than victims of our environment—jerked back and forth between good times and bad with no control of how we think or feel. Ultimately, happiness is a product of how we think.
Happiness is more a product of attitude than situations. A positive attitude looks for the good, even in the most difficult of situations, while a negative attitude always sees the bad.
Steps on the journey of life
Happiness isn’t a destination. It’s not as if one day you discover it and it never goes away. It is part of the journey of life. If happiness is a way of thinking, then maybe it’s time for some mind surgery. Here are four steps to take every day to help you along the journey of happiness:
1. Take responsibility for your life. We can never be mentally, emotionally or spiritually healthy until we are willing to take responsibility for our own actions, thoughts and emotions. Happiness isn’t found by concentrating on yourself—it is discovered in objective truth, not in basing right and wrong on your immediate feelings.
It is discovered in relating to other people. It is discovered in work that uses your talents. It is ultimately discovered in a relationship with your Creator.
2. Learn to control your thoughts. The more a person fills his or her mind with negative thoughts, the unhappier that person will become. Many people waste their entire lives feeling controlled by hurt, hatred, feelings of being a victim, and other negative emotions. We can’t always control our environment or what happens to us. We can’t even always control how we feel, but we can control what we choose to think about.
3. Learn to be thankful. We can either concentrate on what we don’t have or be thankful for what we do have. If we concentrate on what we don’t have, we doom ourselves to frustration and unhappiness. Victor Frankl, for example, wrote of finding beauty in the midst of the oppressive bleakness of Auschwitz in a sunset or flower.
There’s an old story of an immigrant to America who arrived at Ellis Island, the port of entry in New York, with nothing more than the shirt on his back. He worked hard and eventually had a small business and a nice house, living in relative comfort. He even managed to help his son graduate from college with an MBA.
When the son returned from college he looked at his father’s books. The son complained, “How do you even know what is your profit?”
The father replied, “I first take out the cost of the shirt I had on my back when I arrived in this country. Everything else is profit.”
How different would your life be if the last things you thought about before going to sleep and first things you thought about when you woke up were all the good things in your life instead of the negative?
4. Ask God to reveal His plan for you. God has created you for a purpose. He wants you to be His child. He wants you to be happy. And He has a marvelous future planned for you if you want it and are willing to accept it.
Change is never easy, but it can be exciting. If you are going to discover and respond to the Creator’s purpose for your life, you are going to have to make some radical changes in thinking. It will take effort and dedication, but the rewards are worth it on the journey of life! GN