What does Frankl say about happiness?

In Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl says that happiness "cannot be pursued; it must ensue." Happiness is a by-product of doing something meaningful, rather than an end in itself.

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In Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl makes several claims about happiness. The most significant is that happiness is secondary to meaning. He writes that, in American culture, one is constantly ordered to be happy, and even to pursue happiness, but "happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue." If your goal is to make yourself happy, you are likely to fail. You will become happy only as a side-effect of doing something meaningful. He compares happiness with laughter, pointing out that if you want people to laugh, you have to give them a reason to do so, such as telling a joke. It is pointless merely to tell someone that he must or ought to laugh.

Frankl also mentions what he calls "negative happiness." Life in the camp was so hard that the mere absence of suffering, or any situation in which life was slightly less miserable than usual, provided occasion for some contentment. He gives the example of having enough time to delouse before going to bed. This itself was an uncomfortable process which meant standing naked in the freezing cold. However, it was better than the alternative, which was that the lice would prevent one from sleeping. This demonstrates that happiness and pleasure are relative: in a terrible situation, one is grateful for small mercies.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 17, 2021
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