By Judith Connor, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
As therapists, we frequently hear it said, “I just want to be happy.” Still, #happiness can seem like a riddle because the more we seek it, the more elusive it becomes. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Neuropsychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl wrote, “For … happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen [and] you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”
A personal dedication to a cause greater than ourselves does not occur without the inner and typically intentional cultivation a generous spirit. An openness and willingness to share our material, emotional, spiritual and intellectual gifts with others regardless of our own circumstances is at the core of what is meant by generosity of spirit. Beyond charitable giving and volunteerism, generosity of spirit can be defined as a way of authentically being in and engaging with the world, free from fear, envy, and small-mindedness. It requires one to go beyond mere tolerance to a genuine embracing of the “other,” to risk knowing and being known, and to stand ready to sacrifice for what matters most. In other words, having a true spirit of generosity will often, and perhaps always, mean choosing the high road over the path of least resistance.
The good news is that none of us can attain, or even seek, a generous spirit without also serving and sustaining our own mental and emotional well-being. With each day that we live life informed by purpose rather than ease, when we live generously, we come a few steps closer to the lives we are all called upon to live. It is on that journey, then, that we find what it is to be really happy.