In his 1946 bestselling book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl states that “Humans’ primary motivation in life is to find a meaning in life. Ultimately, life is not about pursuing happiness or power. But, rather, happiness is a byproduct human beings find by living a meaningful life.”
We’re obsessed with finding happiness in our culture. But Frankl’s work tells us we’re focused on looking for the wrong thing. His psychotherapeutic method called Logotherapy is founded on the belief that man’s most motivating force is to find a meaning to life.
Furthermore, Frankl goes on to say “It is the very pursuit of happiness, that thwarts happiness.”
Meaning is what we should be seeking, not happiness.
So how can we find meaning in life? Frankl gives us three ways it can be found:
- By having work to do.
- By loving someone or something.
- By redeeming the pain and suffering in your life.
Further reinforcement for focusing on meaning rather than being happy can be found in a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, which found that leading a happy life is associated with being a “taker.” And, those that led a meaningful life are considered “givers.”
At times, we can feel stuck in life, depressed, or empty inside. There was a time when I didn’t think I would feel “happiness” again. I didn’t think it would be possible to have a good life. But out of our pain came this desire to help others who were hurting. Our eyes were opened to the pain and suffering in the world and we wanted to do something.
For several years we had been sponsoring children through Children’s HopeChest. After Jacob passed away, Brea and I both felt we needed to do more, so we started putting our energy and focus into raising awareness and support for a group of orphans who attend the Murole Preparatory School in Rubanda, Uganda. Over the last four years, the work that we have done alongside our community, friends, and family has given us a deep sense of purpose as we moved through our grief. It has given us a work to do. It has taken the focus off of ourselves and onto the service of others. It has helped us to redeem some of our suffering.
“Being fully human always points and is directed to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to live – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.” – Viktor Frankl
On my last trip to Uganda, I was able to meet with one of the boys we sponsor. His name is Innocent.
These kids are fascinated with pictures and especially pictures you take of them on your iPhone. You can entertain them for hours by taking pictures and then showing the pictures to them. To us, it’s another phone. To them it’s a magic box that captures their smiling faces.
After one of our impromptu photo sessions, Innocent stood with me and watched me scroll through the pictures on my phone. I showed him pictures of our house – which was actually a little embarrassing. At best, most families in the village we were visiting live in dirt floor structures with no electricity or running water. So, here I am showing him a picture of my rock house with a swimming pool in the backyard. He seemed quite perplexed as to why I had a giant pool of water in my backyard.
I showed him pictures of Brea, Kendall and Kelsey, school events, holidays… As I’m sweeping through my pictures, he says, “Wait. Who is that?” With hesitation and a knot in my throat, I say, “That’s Jacob.” He looks at me with one of the most serious faces I’ve ever seen and says,”That’s Jacob?” “Yes,” I replied.
I could sense the reverence emanating from his deep brown eyes. It was like time slowed down, and we didn’t say anything to each other. We were in the middle of a field with hundreds of other kids running around, and I can’t remember hearing anything else. We locked eyes. His eyes started welling up with tears and in that moment we connected on another level.
In this moment all language, nationality, and age barriers were broken. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
In his eyes and demeanor, I could sense compassion and empathy. He knows what loss is like. I could tell that he hurt for me. There was an indescribable and unspoken connection of love – that somehow came from a 15 year old boy who never met Jacob and had only known me for hours.
With stoic grace he whispers to me with a slight accent,”Oh Jacob, I love him. He is a good boy.” I nearly lost it. Somehow, I kept it together. Then he took his finger and touched the screen to rub Jacob’s hair. “Look at his hair. It’s orange.” “Yep, you’re right,” I said as I laughed. “It’s orange.”
You see, Innocent had heard the story of Jacob and knew that the new dormitory he was sleeping in was named after him. “Jacob’s House” was built as a safe, comfortable place for orphans to stay while they attended Prep School away from home. Jacob’s life is giving this 15-year-old boy shelter on the other side of the world.
Encounters like this one continue to give me purpose and meaning. If you want more meaning in your life,here’s your chance today. Go to this link, and sponsor one of Innocent’s schoolmates. I can promise you, it will make a significant impact on a child in Uganda and it will help you live a more meaningful life.
Go find meaning. Be a Giver.
Check out Jason’s new book, Limping But Blessed.
Originally published on Jason’s blog.