I stumbled onto an article that other day that discussed an idea that I just love, it is more important to live a meaningful life then to be happy. It’s based on the idea in a book written by a concentration camp survivor about how a reason some people survived and some people didn’t was that the survivors found meaning. No they weren’t happy, but they found meaning, a reason to live. Modern ideas of happy are based on self fulfillment, when we do what we want and things are going well we feel happy but our life has meaning when we find a purpose.
I was immediately struck by how this idea corresponds with being chronically ill. By being chronically ill we are having negative events happen to us, so sometimes it is hard to be happy, but more then being happy the key is to find meaning. We are sick, what can we do about it? What is a our purpose? How has our purpose changed? How can we live a meaningful life with our changed circumstances?
I think that too often doctors who deal with chronically ill patients focus too much on them not being happy (by society’s definition). When doctors should be truly concerned is when their patient can find no meaning to their life, and that’s a very real circumstance for a chronically ill patient. Sick people’s lives have been turned upside down and many things that society tells us are important and bring us happiness are no longer available to us. So we need to find a new purpose, an alternative meaning. Maybe it’s a loved one, maybe it is advocacy for a disease, maybe it’s raising awareness, counseling others etc. We need to make sure we don’t get dragged down into thinking “what’s the point of even existing because I am so completely useless.”
I won’t lie, I’ve been dragged down into thinking that I’m totally useless to everyone and I think most people could stay the same. However, we need to not wallow in that thought. While we may not be useful in the ways society tells us we should be, we can find places to be of use, we can still find meaning in our lives. I have found meaning through my family, through volunteer work, and through advocating for Lyme disease. Though I have ups and downs in my happiness, I know that I have a purpose and that I have a meaningful life, and that is more important to my self worth than anything else.
* Check out the article here