Simple Fact — Life is Better When You’re Happy


I read a piece in The Atlantic yesterday by Emily Esfahani Smith that annoyed the living daylights out of me.  It was titled: “There’s More to Life than Being Happy.”

Yes, I agree there is more to life than being happy, but in the article Ms. Smith conflates happiness with a relentless pursuit of selfish pleasure.  What a sad, narrow-minded and ultimately ludicrous interpretation of happiness.  Happiness is a state of being; a combination of contentment, joy and celebration of life in all its ups and downs.

Ms. Smith’s article is primarily about Viktor Frankl’s seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and its core thesis that life only has value if it has meaning, and happiness does not give life any value or meaning.  Frankl asserts that those who survived the Nazi concentration camps did so because they managed to find meaning in their lives, and that gives “meaning” a higher value to humanity than happiness.

This suggests that suffering has some noble purpose that happiness does not have.  If you go through your whole life only being happy, your life will have no meaning, according to Frankl and Smith.  This is simply wrong, but more importantly, suffering and happiness are not mutually exclusive.  You can survive immense difficulties and still remain a happy person.  That is the reason I wrote Happiness as a Second Language, to provide a series of guidelines and exercises for people who want to teach themselves how to be happy, regardless of their circumstances.

The geniuses who wrote the Declaration of Independence recognized that all humans are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights — the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Not the pursuit of meaning, or security, or profit, or any other less lofty goals.  We have the right to pursue happiness.  I believe that is the greatest gift mankind was ever given, and I am not going to squander it by searching to find meaning in my own and other’s suffering.  I will embrace and grow my happiness, regardless of what challenges the world throws at me.  I hope you do the same.  Life is much better (and probably more meaningful) when you’re happy.

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2 thoughts on “Simple Fact — Life is Better When You’re Happy

  • Karen B.

    I am a generally happy person, sometimes despite circumstance, which I attribute in great measure to my mother. She’s been gone twelve years this week, but I remember more than anything else that she was happy – despite suffering for decades from both diabetes and multiple sclerosis (not to mention the financial difficulties attendant to chronic illness). And this, after losing her mother when she was fourteen, her duties as surrogate mother to her siblings, and her own out-of-wedlock pregnancy in a time when it was considered a shame. This is not to say that she didn’t have times of sadness and depression – she would have had to be mental not to. But, on the whole she woke up every day happy, and grateful for what she had. So you are right, Val – suffering and happiness are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I think that Frankl had it backwards – if you can let go of the idea that suffering has any meaning at all, you transcend it and in doing so are rooted in the moment, in who you really are and what you really have, and this can actually lead to ever deeper levels of happiness than had you never suffered at all.

    My mother was a living example of this, and that was her greatest gift to me.

    • speakhappiness

      Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story of your mom. It is a testament to a life well-lived that what you took from her was an understanding of how to find happiness at all times, even when the forces of nature seem to be working against it. I am sure that she knows how happy you are, and that is your greatest gift to her.