The French Foreign Legion was established in 1831 for foreign nationals willing to serve in the French Armed Forces. The Legion was commanded by French officers, one of whom was Andre Louis Arthur Zirnheld, a former college philosophy professor turned paratrooper officer. When Zirnheld was killed in action in 1942, a poem was found in his possession (1):
The Paratrooper’s Prayer Give me, God, what you still have, Give me what no one asks for; I do not ask for wealth Nor even for success, nor even health - People ask you so often, God for all that That you cannot have any left. Give me, God, what you still have; Give me what people refuse to accept from you.
I want insecurity and disquietude, I want turmoil and brawl, And if you should give them to me, my God, Once and for all Let me be sure to have them always, For I will not always have the courage To ask you for them.
Happiness - A State Of Security And Contentment
Many people want happiness in life. Yet this word is surprisingly difficult to define. Usually, people think of happiness as a state of security andcontentment consistent with things like high job satisfaction, considerable wealth, and an esteemed reputation.
To attain this elusive state of security and contentment, a person must pursue goals of acquisition. To have high job satisfaction, one must first acquire a great job. To have considerable wealth, one must first acquire a high income. To have an esteemed reputation, one must first acquire a large circle of followers, friends, or colleagues. Eventually, when a sufficient number of these things are acquired, a person is said to “have it all.” This is how many people define ultimate happiness - a state where they have it all.
Yet when we examine people who have it all, we find they are often dissatisfied, or even depressed. It might come as a surprise to learn that many people who have (or had) it all were diagnosed with depression - people like Buzz Aldrin (the second man to set foot on the moon), Jim Carrey (a comedian), Winston Churchill (a prime minister), Diana (Princess of Wales), “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson (a professional wrestler and actor), Angelina Jolie (an actress), David Letterman (a comedian), Britney Spears (a pop singer), Bruce Springsteen (a rock musician), and Robin Williams (a comedian and actor). Notably, the depression appeared even after these people had acquired a great job, a high income, and an esteemed reputation.
In the words of Angelina Jolie:
“Then you attain those things and realize you still couldn’t be more empty.”
Interestingly, perceiving happiness as a state of security and contentment, reached by acquiring things until a person is said to have it all, leads to the exact opposite of the intended outcome.
Happiness - A Pursuit Of Excitement And Growth
Rather than define happiness as a state of security and contentment, some people instead choose to define it as the pursuit of excitementand growth. By this definition, there is no emphasis on the acquisition of job satisfaction, wealth, or reputation; there is no emphasis on having it all.
Defining happiness as the pursuit of excitement and growth results in a totally different outlook on life. Happiness is no longer a state, it's a path - a path without end. Happiness is no longer about acquiring security and contentment, it's about tackling goals that are exhilarating yet may be beyond one's abilities - in essence, the goals that a person fears the most.
For make no mistake, fear lies at the heart of true happiness. Those who would define happiness as a state of security and contentment see their greatest fears as a barrier, a sort of “terror barrier” to be avoided at all costs. Their fear is never conquered. In contrast, those who define happiness as the pursuit of excitement and growth see their greatest fears as a doorway, a doorway to be crossed.
In the words of the writer Joseph Campbell:
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”
Fear is not a barrier to be avoided, but a doorway to be crossed.
Through your fear lies true happiness.
References: (1) Quinnell AJ. 1980. Man on Fire. Macmillan London.