Clearly, I have put a lot of thought into the concept of happiness. I have always struggled with a certain darkness and spent most of my late teens and 20’s battling debilitating depression.
Ironically, one of the things that came out of my accident and subsequent experiences is that, for the first time in my adult life, I actually liked myself. This is the result of a number of things. Perhaps it is partly age, experience (experience = making lots of mistakes) and maybe evolving out of all my growing pains/angst; part of it is that, for the first time in my life, I had to tolerate a really shitty situation. In the past, if I hadn’t been happy with things (e.g. an academic path, a job, a relationship) I could just move on to something else. In this situation, I had nowhere to run to and was forced to endure, and get through a really tough thing. Before my accident, I would poo-poo my various accomplishments, thinking, well, if I can do it, it couldn’t have been that hard. My accident was something I knew was, objectively, really hard and I was/am proud of the way I conducted myself through it. As a result, for the first time in my life, I could acknowledge the positive qualities I now knew I had always possessed.
When people would hear about my accident, I would often hear sentiments along the lines of “You survived for a reason.” NO. I survived because of a confluence of certain factors and events. I’m sure people say stuff like this to impose meaning on a tragic incident/situation, probably more for their benefit than mine. I have always been a humanist/atheist, from age 5 or 6 or so. This faith in my own strength and abilities, rather than any reliance on an external source, has had a strong influence on the way I’ve led/lead my life.
I read Frankl’s short but powerful text Man’s Search for Meaning a year or two after my accident. Frankl articulated what I had always struggled with, and one of the root causes of my previous depression. This Atlantic article does a good job of summarizing themes that have dominated my life. I know I am no hedonist, and that simply experiencing pleasure, does not make me happy.
One question I still struggle with is whether happiness is a choice or not. Sometimes biological factors seem to be very strong; yet, why is it that quite a lot of people can find happiness amidst pretty poor circumstances and others, manage to grab failure from the jaws of relatively good circumstances? A topic worthy of an entire blog of it’s own.
In the meantime, I seek to live my life to the fullest, meaning with stoke, determination, integrity, and doing my little bit to help other people realize their potential.