As we approach the end of another year, we may find ourselves reflecting on our achievements, goals, and significant events. Often, such reflections centre on whether or not we are happy or whether the people, places, or things that we experienced over the course of the past year brought us happiness. American founding father Benjamin Franklin spoke on this topic, saying that “The [US] Constitution only guarantees you the right to pursue happiness, you have to catch it yourself” (Pursuit of Happiness Quotes, n.d.). Victor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy, was critical of the pursuit of happiness. For Frankl, the very pursuit of happiness thwarted finding meaning in life (see Smith, 2013). Thus, it begs the question of how one reconciles meaning and the pursuit of happiness in a world that has grown more disconnected and superficial.
As clinicians practicing Frankl’s logotherapy, we know that our clients want to live meaningful and purposeful lives. They experience a sense of emptiness when they deem their lives devoid of meaning. As a logotherapist, I have found that working with clients to find meaning and purpose is very much therapeutic. At the same time, I acknowledge that clients may, at times, find logotherapy lacking in structure or focus. But it does not have to be that way. In developing logotherapy, Frankl provided clinicians with an essential set of therapeutic goals, leaving the structure of that therapy up to the individual clinician. One way to bring structure to logotherapy is to recognize the developmental stages of their clients. As Baumel and Constantino (2020) point out, developmental stages are indicated by milestones of character development and identity formation. Such milestones have potential relevance to logotherapy practitioners, who can keep in mind such milestones (or the pursuit of these milestones) as potential sources of meaning for their clients.
Clinicians in the modern world are contending with how technology is impacting clients’ sense of personal meaning and connection to others. This may take the form of advising clients to limit their use of social media if they find it more of a detriment than a positive, or by advising clients to prioritize having personal satisfaction and meaning to their careers, not just material wealth. Clinicians must keep in mind how the modern world may impede clients’ pursuit of happiness and meaning.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, the famous Russian existential writer, once stated, “The greatest happiness is to know the source of unhappiness” (The Socratic Method, n.d.). Dostoevsky recognized that the human condition does not prescribe happiness itself, rather it is something that is a result of effort, determination, and suffering. For modern clinicians interested in logotherapy, consider using Frankl’s principles in a structured manner, while also acknowledging the ever-changing world in which we find ourselves.
Baumel, W. T., & Constantino, J. N. (2020). Implementing logotherapy in its second half-century: Incorporating existential considerations into personalized treatment of adolescent depression. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 59(9), 1012–1015. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2020.06.006
Pursuit of Happiness Quotes. (n.d.). www.pursuit-of-happiness.org. https://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/happiness-quotes/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20Constitution%20only%20guarantees%20you
Smith, E. E. (2013, January 9). There’s more to life than being happy. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy/266805/
The Socratic Method. (n.d.). The Socratic method. https://www.socratic-method.com/quote-meanings/fyodor-dostoevsky-the-greatest-happiness-is-to-know-the-source-of-unhappiness