Sunday, February 25, 2024

This Thanksgiving, choose happiness

| November 24, 2010 8:00 PM

The 5-year-old looked up at her mother, tears clouding the little girl's eyes.

"I know you're sad and that's OK," the compassionate mom said. "But when you're done feeling sad, think about feeling happy. It's your choice, you know."

Those words of wisdom uttered by a wonderful mother we know have been said before, in many ways, at many of life's painful junctures. Bad stuff happens to all of us; stuff that we can't control. What we can control - what we always can control - is our reaction to the bad stuff.

In "Man's Search for Meaning," the late Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl explains how he survived two and a half years in Nazi death camps during World War II. Frankl realized that there is meaning in even our darkest moments, and it is how we choose to grow from those experiences that determines our relative happiness.

As our Thanksgiving blessing to you, here's a passage from Frankl's writing that we hope will inspire you to choose happiness even when it seems most elusive.

... We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp (Auschwitz). The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth - that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.

After liberation from Auschwitz in April 1945, Frankl learned that his mother, father and his beloved wife had all been murdered in their death camps. Yet over the next 52 years, Frankl devoted himself to helping thousands of people find real meaning in their lives.