Emily Esfahani Smith over at the Atlantic has a nice essay up reflecting on the ideas of Viktor Frankl with a new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister, along with recent research on happiness. The conundrum: meaning appears to lower happiness. Meaning requires commitment and self-sacrifice, and those tend involve less happiness doing your own thing. Parents worry; then when they become grandparents, they worry some more (it’s great fun being grandparent, so I’m told, but I also know they fret. And how can you not with car accidents and spree shootings and human predators and cancer in the world?)
The practical philosophers of Athens, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, would not have needed social psychology experiments to understand the tradeoff: they spent a good deal of time contesting the happy life, the pleasurable life, and the moral life, and most concluded that the latter was more important to the first than the second, by far. Even Epicurius, who would remind us of the good associated with pleasure, could not bring himself to dismiss the importance that moral choices bring to our social lives, seeing little distinction ultimately between our happiness and the fate of family, friends, society.