Holly Whitman
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Shortly after my last column was posted I received an astonishing amount of feedback about
Happiness Is A Choice. The third, and most difficult, path that seems to ultimately hold the key to
lasting happiness, mentioned by Viktor Frankl in his amazing book
Man’s Search For Meaning,
baffles many people.

Life is more complicated and happiness is more elusive for people than ever before.
Until you
understand the power of your mind to absolutely determine the quality of your life,
happiness will remain elusive
. But as I learned long ago in the School of Hard Knocks:
Happiness is an inside job. Period.

I think it is helpful to first define what I mean by happiness in order to figure out how to attain it.
Happiness is not a La La Land state of intense, giddy joy that keeps you spinning on some
kind of kinetic high as you bounce around with a goofy grin, hugging your fellow man.
happiness is more of a calm feeling, a general state of well-being. When you are a
truly happy person, you find satisfaction in the way you live, despite life’s ups and
You experience joy, sadness, upset, grief, anger – the full spectrum of human emotion. It
is entirely normal for a happy person to feel all of those feelings because happiness is a general
state of being, not a single emotion. As you may have noticed with emotions, they can change
many times in a day.
It is the underlying state of being that matters most. If your
foundation is stable and strong, you can weather just about anything that
rocks your boat.

How do you get there? I believe that the answer is both simple and complex.
First, decide that you are going to be happy.
Every single day. Life is full of
obstacles, and suffering seems to be an unavoidable aspect of the human
experience. Because of this, we all need to develop survival strategies but,
more than that, we need a sense of enjoyment and contentment in our lives.
After all, barring some disaster, we are here for the long-haul.

So here are a few ideas that have helped me along the way. You may have a few of your own;
whatever works is what matters.

1.        Acknowledge a power greater than yourself.  This concept works whether
the religion you follow is traditional, alternative, agnosticism, or atheism (because it is a belief
system, in sociological terms, atheism is also a religion). It is probably the most important thing
that you can do. In 12-Step programs, which are designed to help all people, no matter what they
believe, there is an emphasis on understanding that this can be anything more powerful than you.
For many people, this means God. Some refer to a Higher Power. For others, it can be something
in nature, such as earthquakes, tidal waves, the ocean, etc. I grew up in Oklahoma, where
tornadoes rule, appearing suddenly with enough force to tear up buildings, carry cows and cars for
miles, tear roofs off of houses or demolish them entirely. That is certainly much more powerful than
I am, or anyone else that I know. Understanding that there are things more powerful than we are,
and surrendering to that idea, relieves us of the burden of feeling we must control everything
around us. That need to control undermines and prevents happiness. Give it up.

2.        Practice the “attitude of gratitude.” In other words, count your blessings and do
it often. As I reviewed my own path, I attempted to write down some of the experiences that led me
to where I am today. I never finished.
It just does not matter anymore. Why? Because it is in the
past; my life today, with all of its ups and downs, is very rich and satisfying. A sense of perspective
is helpful here. Consider this:
 Every day that you are free of those things that once hurt you is a
wonderful day.
Every single one of them, regardless of how many years pass. I am certain that
Viktor Frankl would agree, as the time he spent in concentration camps receded further and
further into the past. Consider this analogy: We all appreciate water when we are thirsty. But if we
have been deprived of water for long periods of time, with no end in sight, our appreciation of
water is beyond description; when we finally get it, nothing has ever tasted sweeter. It’s all about
perspective. Develop an
attitude of gratitude for the good things in your life and keep those
thoughts in the foreground. It is absolutely your choice. Appreciating and counting your blessings,
in lieu of feeling sorry for yourself, generates warm, contented feelings.

3.        Find meaning in your life. Here we return to Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for
for his strategies enabled his survival in a situation where, as he put it, “the odds of
surviving…were no more than one in twenty-eight, as can be easily verified by exact statistics
(Frankl, 1985, p. 137).”  Frankl posits three different ways to find meaning in life (see Happiness
Is A Choice, January 2007).  The third way, through unavoidable suffering, is not listed because
suffering is essential to creating meaning in life. It is always preferable to avoid suffering, if you
can. But if you can’t, then to find meaning in life,
you must somehow alchemize that suffering so
that it is transformed into something positive; you must change your attitude toward it, and find
what good can come of it.
Frankl, stuck as he was inside a concentration camp, saw that, in itself,
living to escape the camp did not give meaning to survival. He realized that the time had come to
live his ideas, especially since he could no longer write about them. It was through this decision
that Frankl found meaning; he lived to uplift those around him in any way he could. He gave up
scraps of food to those who were weaker. On several occasions, he gave up his place on work
details, which promised a better life for workers, to someone whose need was greater, even
though he himself longed for a better life. Over and over, Frankl made helping others his focus; he
noticed that, as bleak as life was in the concentration camps, he experienced a sense of fulfillment
in doing this. He was needed, and his will to survive was bolstered. Later on, as he analyzed his
experiences in the camps, he noted that those who lived for something greater than themselves
and their own needs were the ones who most often survived. Their goals gave their lives meaning;
it was paramount that they survive in order to accomplish that very important thing they felt needed
to be done for someone else’s good.

Learning how to be a happier person is only one tiny piece in an overall self-improvement
program. However, it is probably the most important place to begin, as
a happy person has
so much more to contribute to life, and to others, than an unhappy person.

Decide upon awakening to be happy, each and every day; acknowledge that Higher
Power in your life, whatever that may be; practice an attitude of gratitude, and find ways to bring
meaning into your life. Above all, seek to transform your suffering into something meaningful that
brings good to others. All of this will, of course, keep you very busy. But somewhere, in there, a
little happiness will start sneaking in.

Be ready!

Coming next month........  
The Second Path to Happiness; The Meaning of Love.

Click to explore other articles by Holly Whitman

Please feel free to email questions or comments to Holly Whitman at

Or share your thoughts in our guest book!
Happiness Is A
Choice, Continued:
The Third Path
COPYRIGHT February 2007 Holly Whitman
Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that
occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but
seldom to a man in the course of his life.
Benjamin Franklin
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