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The best Happy Birthday ever sung? It was at a private party in a downtown hotel, sung by the entire cast of the opera Falstaff , gathered from all over the world for what turned out to be a critically acclaimed run. The chandeliers were shaking for real that night. Still excruciatingly shy, I had zero social skills. I wanted what I thought those grown-ups had. My competitive nature kicked into high gear. The solution? Start drinking, of course. Unbelievably enough, a handsome and powerful young prince fell in love with me.
He was a major player in that shimmering universe. I learned to keep up with him, drink for drink, and everyone else with whom we socialized. I learned to sparkle, too.
Oh, the extremely fancy shindigs, with bottles and bottles of wines and cognac and scotch worth hundreds of dollars each! Glittering black-tie parties with incredibly accomplished stars, and the people who wanted to sit next to them. Always followed by uber -hip late-night suppers. You bet! Except that I began having trouble managing the hangovers.
It got harder to ignore the way I felt every time I lied to the local wine storeowner, buying case after case, saying it was for parties at our house, when really, it was just for me. I undertook the excruciating work of beginning to get real.
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It took a long time. Can I just tell you?! But never, not once, was there a time that learning to get, and stay real, felt worse than needing to finish a bottle of wine, by myself, every night. Which has been to re-claim my story for myself. To understand how to live my own truth. To create enough space for my story to live me. Am I a too-wounded animal, never able to walk with dignity and pride? Do I trust that the world is a safe and loving universe?
Where did I put those wings, anyway?! Regular people experience horrible things every day. I deserve it! When he was a high school student , one of his science teachers declared to the class, "Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation. As he saw in the camps, those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not.
Frankl worked as a therapist in the camps, and in his book, he gives the example of two suicidal inmates he encountered there. Like many others in the camps, these two men were hopeless and thought that there was nothing more to expect from life, nothing to live for. For the other, a scientist, it was a series of books that he needed to finish. Frankl writes:. It has sold millions of copies worldwide. Now, over twenty years later, the book's ethos -- its emphasis on meaning, the value of suffering, and responsibility to something greater than the self -- seems to be at odds with our culture, which is more interested in the pursuit of individual happiness than in the search for meaning.
One must have a reason to 'be happy.
According to Gallup , the happiness levels of Americans are at a four-year high -- as is, it seems, the number of best-selling books with the word "happiness" in their titles. At this writing, Gallup also reports that nearly 60 percent all Americans today feel happy, without a lot of stress or worry.
On the other hand, according to the Center for Disease Control , about 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose.
There's More to Life Than Being Happy
Forty percent either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose. Nearly a quarter of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful. Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression.
On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research. This is why some researchers are cautioning against the pursuit of mere happiness. Examining their self-reported attitudes toward meaning, happiness, and many other variables -- like stress levels, spending patterns, and having children -- over a month-long period, the researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different.
Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a "taker" while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a "giver. How do the happy life and the meaningful life differ? Happiness, they found, is about feeling good. Specifically, the researchers found that people who are happy tend to think that life is easy, they are in good physical health, and they are able to buy the things that they need and want.
While not having enough money decreases how happy and meaningful you consider your life to be, it has a much greater impact on happiness. The happy life is also defined by a lack of stress or worry. Most importantly from a social perspective, the pursuit of happiness is associated with selfish behavior -- being, as mentioned, a "taker" rather than a "giver. If you have a need or a desire -- like hunger -- you satisfy it, and that makes you happy. People become happy, in other words, when they get what they want. Humans, then, are not the only ones who can feel happy.
Animals have needs and drives, too, and when those drives are satisfied, animals also feel happy, the researchers point out. But what then of those times when what we wish for seems to be far out of reach? Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? There is an old story of a waiter who asked a customer whether he had enjoyed the meal. The guest replied that everything was fine, but it would have been better if they had served more bread.
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The next day, when the man returned, the waiter doubled the amount of bread, giving him four slices instead of two, but still the man was not happy. The next day, the waiter doubled the bread again, without success.
On the fourth day, the waiter was really determined to make the man happy. And so he took a nine-foot-long 3-m loaf of bread, cut it in half, and with a smile, served that to the customer. My dear brothers and sisters, the choice is ours.
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We can choose to limit our gratitude, based on the blessings we feel we lack. Or we can choose to be like Nephi, whose grateful heart never faltered.
We can choose to be like Job, who seemed to have everything but then lost it all.