It's Ok to Be Sad: On the Legitimacy of Unhappiness, Part 1

On the meaning of suffering


…our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by the unhappiness about being unhappy.

(Frankl quoting professor of psychology Edith Weisskopf-Joelson)

I very recently returned to Man’s Search for Meaning. I’ve written of Frankl before; but the passages on finding meaning through suffering have taken on a different meaning; the last time I read them was before Margot’s passing.

And what about man? Are you sure that the human world is a terminal point in the evolution of the cosmos? Is it not conceivable that there is still another dimension, a world beyond man’s world; a world in which the question of an ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer?

This ultimate meaning necessarily exceeds and surpasses the finite intellectual capacities of man; in logotherapy, we speak in this context of a super-meaning. What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms. Logos is deeper than logic.

I have written about potential meanings, I have wrestled with what could have justified her loss. But the thing I have never done is believe that such a meaning could exist outside of my understanding. Not just outside of my understanding, but outside my potential for understanding.

Frankl differentiated his from other psychotherapies through this will to meaning as a primary motivator of human behavior; in contrast to Freud’s will to pleasure or Nietzsche’s will to power.

What I like about framing around meaning as opposed to around happiness is that it is the most resistant to life’s inevitable circumstances. The clinically depressed, those suffering loss, those in the throws of addiction, those under tremendous stress; those who are functionally out of reach of happiness can still find a path to meaning.

The title of this post comes from my friend Salim Nourallah’s excellent song, It’s Ok to be Sad (amazon).