Since when did the purpose of life become the insatiable quest for happiness, and of course, the fun that makes a human happy? Whatever happened to purpose, fulfillment, and meaning? I think people have this false idea that if they succeed in their primary directive of being happy, the fulfillment, purpose and meaning will follow—that those three objectives are natural
Thanks for the amazing service you provide via Substack and your private practice. I’m always seeking opportunities to fill my purpose cup. As such, I can relate to your writing.
Would you please mind sharing your version of (no brainer) meaning? 👀😬I’m curious.
By the way, I find myself constantly trying to catch my purpose. I chose that verb because it seems such an elusive pursuit to me! Sheesh! I reiterate my gratitude!
I like the way Epicurus saw it, that pleasure is the absence of pain.
Well, this is a constant and touchy subject for me. I watch people living their lives in such rudderless ways, always trying to DO things to make themselves feel better. They are never satisfied, never peaceful, never curious, never "thoughtful" or pondering things, and are completely unaware of the wonders all around them. I generally keep my thoughts to myself. But my dear niece, that I had always taken care of when her mom died, came to a point in her late 50's where she was having panic attacks because she was confused and "unhappy." She tried everything that is popular out there to try to make herself feel good - redecorating, drinking, buying things, even motorcycle racing. I tried so hard to get her to listen to the idea of her deeper self - her spiritual self - her 'aware" self that is behind her daily life and stop rushing around doing busy things. After a year of giving her books she refused to read, or trying to engage her in conversations about it, she suddenly yelled at me that she didn't want to know about such things, and hasn't spoken to me in 2 years. I regretfully assume I was ignorant in my approach. Anyway, it has been so obvious to me that people in our American materialistic, constant entertainment, thrill-a-minute culture that people are frighteningly empty and don't know it. I see older people who have their church community to give them purpose, but they still don't have peace or contentment. I see kids being so angry and ugly and hateful to everyone that it's frightening. Let me contrast that with videos made by Peter Santenello on Youtube that was taken through the biggest slum in India by a teenager who was delightful, desperately poor, but rich with endless friends in a culture that cares about each other. I think Americans have lost any deep connection to Nature, beauty, awe, gratitude, compassion, and just simply knowledge from lack of reading books written by people who have deeply thought about life. Todd, you are outstanding at bring up subjects that really get people to think about things. Thank you.
Your patients are lucky. What a terrific bunch of thoughts you've put forth here. Regarding fun, I like it, and pursue it, and think it's an important part of life, at least for me. This passage "an intense physicality that causes the flow of adrenaline and dopamine" describes my favorite pastimes perfectly. Just got back from a few days of steelhead fishing. Mosquitos were bad, it was warmer than predicted. I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that when a steelhead (a 7-15 pound type of rainbow trout) struck, EVERYTHING else goes away. The mosquitos that were driving me crazy cease to exist. The pounding heart, being so completely in the moment, tell me I'm doing exactly what I need to be doing. Now there's some therapy for you. Deer hunting creates the same thing. These type pursuits are not what you do if you're looking for instant gratification. The rarity of the payoff moments is what keeps them forever worth chasing. Not for everyone, some prefer tamer things like golf and movies. But for me that flow of adrenaline and dopamine is where it's at. Within the larger context of a meaningful life, best we can make it, of course.
Interesting, here in Germany we work with the same words. Happiness against contentment. Happiness is a short shiny feeling like having fun in a rollercoaster. While contentment is a more relaxed feeling that lasts longer, and is not so obvious. Many people are content without realizing this, they just feel good.
When i look into the old books from Norman Vincent Peale again i read something similar. People want to be happy instead of being content and realizing how good their situation already is. And as today, they don't want to work for their happiness, it should come instantly, otherwise they get bored, or are unsatisfied.
Noone today really ask himself or herself what the purpose of his or her life is, noone takes the time to sit back and relax, we just always have to do something. I think boredom is our only help. Just let all powerlines collapse, so the people realize, that they have human neighbours one can even talk too.
Bottom up purpose, vs top down purpose.
"Epicureans believe that avoiding pain means not fearing the gods or death, and not desiring things that are not both natural and necessary. Peace of mind should be maintained by living simply and having strong friendships with people you can count on."
I'm not much of a fan of Frankl.
As humans, I feel daily that we’re moving away from our humanity, believing machines are better suited to manage the menial tasks, all the way to “thinking” for us. What’s left if we outsource our very nature as physical, spiritual beings? There is no purpose for us. This disconnection from ourselves through the constant connection to everything BUT our true selves has, and continues to, create the “war with ourselves/each other human, manifesting in the chaos of which we continually complain. There is diminishing authenticity of the reality of us as a unique species. We’re voluntarily giving away our very souls. And the wily, sinister ones among us know and promote this as they understand how easily it makes controlling us; just like the very machines we think will make our lives better.
When my children were becoming adults, I also used to find that sentiment jarring and shallow when people would say 'I just want them to be happy'. I used to think 'so if your daughter had an affair with someone else's husband and broke up a family, but it made her 'happy', you'd think that was great?'. Not me. I told my children I hoped they would grow up to be responsible adults who would always consider other people and not always put themselves first (not saying it has always worked out 100% that way, but you try!).
Excellent article, Todd. I'm totally with Victor Frankl. I note also, that CS Lewis didn't call his book where he describes his slow and totally unwanted conversion to Christianity (as 'the most reluctant convert in all England') 'Surprised by Happiness'. He called it 'Surprised by Joy'.
Seems like we’re culturally satiated in all our desires by the endless scroll of the screen. Like you said about the adrenaline and the dopamine, these digital interactions do the same - perhaps more insidiously because they give us a feel of being connected without any real connectivity. It makes me think of the drug in Brave New World, and the endless pursuit of fun, but the “Savage” wants real life - “I want the freedom to work hard/suffer” (or something along those lines). And, boy, do I feel that! I watched a little bit of TV as a teen, but I otherwise wasn’t overly interested, and I was baffled at my peers who seemed to live their lives through Friends, crying together after the finale episode. Perhaps it’s that I’d gone through real grief with the loss of my mother at 12 years old, but it made no sense to me (now, don’t get me wrong, I love the catharsis of crying through a good movie, and also cried my way through Parenthood). Then again, my free time was usually spent wandering outside in nature, dreaming up gardens, writing poetry, and reading. Even now, part of my current cultural rebellion is that I’ve stopped watching entertainment of most all kinds, and I am back to a life of writing and wandering nature. We’ve never owned a tv, but smart phones and computers are more than enough for chronic distraction. I won’t let my children piddle around on my phone, not even to scroll through my picture reel. And when my 6 year old son asks why, I’ve told him “Because this tool is not healthy for you, and your brain is still growing and I can’t let it be impacted by it.” Meanwhile the software developer father scrolls the photo reel and Instagram with him. It could be worse, but, oh, it rankles me. Because I’m the one facing the brunt of what addiction to technology does to a relationship (even without a porn addiction, just technology and coding). No pursuit, no physical interest, frustration at inconveniences and hard things, utter meaninglessness. The better word, I think, is “acedia”. The overuse of technology creates Acedia, a spiritual sloth. I genuinely believe technology is the Baal of our day, it is the god that has replaced any place or need for God. We’re always connected, so there’s no need or room for the Holy Spirit to work in us. So meaninglessness reigns. There’s no goal, nothing in life to work towards, just endless computering, and that’s enough somehow. I might be judgey about it, and perhaps I’m wrong. But I’m continuing my rebellion with my children. They are homeschooled and the 13 year old special
-needs girl down to the 6 year old boy know how to hand sew, machine sew, crochet, knit, quill, Highland dance, horseback ride, compose poetry, whittle, identify plants, and do their own (age/ability-appropriate) chores. They are never bored. Well, almost never, they’re still human children 😂 My house might be a constant mess of handicrafts, but my children aren’t living their lives through a screen. They have been provided with much fodder to keep a flame of meaningfulness as they grow - I hope, at any rate. And now, as my 6 year old is telling me get to get off my phone because I said it’s not good to be in it, Adieu! 😅
Seligman believes happiness comes from pursuing the good life, finding flow and meaning. Later he added having fulfilling relationships. We will include these four variables in our biopsychosocial assessment (with children) at our new center in Portsmouth. A easy question would be, "What are the things you do that provide you with a sense of purpose?"