How do we find happiness in the face of death? How can we rebuild after a tragedy devastates our lives?
On September 11, 2001, the lives of 2,753 individuals were cut short by a terrorist attack in New York. Of those killed, 343 were firefighters and paramedics and 50 were police officers. More than 1,600 of those who died left behind spouses or partners. More than 3,000 children lost a parent in the attack. Most of those who died were between the ages of 35 and 39.
The immediate impact of the September 11 attack in New York was devastating. Lives were destroyed, hearts were shattered, hopes were dashed. But the horror of September 11 didn't end on that day. Nor did it end with those nearly 3,000 deaths. According to New York magazine, the fires in New York continued to burn for 99 days following the attack. Nearly 150,000 people lost their jobs. New York faced an economic loss of $105 billion. The cost of cleanup alone was $600 million.
Following all the loss and devastation, which is still felt today -- almost 4,400 days since the attack -- the question of how to rebuild remains. For some, the pursuit of pre-9/11 happiness has been a more than decade-long search for meaning, reasons or silver linings. They ask if any good came from that horrific day. They wonder if there is some explanation for the terrible tragedy. While these questions are typical in the face of disaster, I worry that they undermine our ability to move on and find happiness once again.
For the sake of debate, let's say that something positive has come from the September 11 attack. For the sake of argument, assume that there could be a silver lining or an explanation. Would knowing that the attack had some positive benefit enable us to cope more quickly? Would a logical reason enable us to return to our previous levels of happiness? Perhaps. Or perhaps not.
The problem with trying to find meaning in a tragedy like 9/11 is that the search is never-ending, the findings are immeasurable and the impact is unproductive at best. In looking for a positive outcome and in potentially finding one, I fear that we would either be less distressed by the significance of the horrors -- that we would have less sympathy for those grieving the untimely deaths of their loved ones or otherwise impacted by the disaster -- or else feel no different at all. Whether we find an explanation or not, the facts remain the same. And for those who felt the pain, who bear the scars, no explanation can heal their wounds. Happiness cannot be found in logic or reason.
If you were to put your hand into a fire, no words in this world could magically dispel the pain you feel. Biological explanations delivered by even the most experienced doctor would not hasten your recovery or heal your burn wounds.
So on this September 11, if you're still looking for answers and explanations as a means to finding happiness once again, I beg you to stop. Don't spend your time and energy seeking to understand the horror. Don't obsess over the reasons for the destruction. Instead, focus on rebuilding. Focus on what really matters.
According to a study led by Harvard researcher, George Vaillant the secret to happiness lies in the meaningful relationships we develop throughout our lives. "Happiness is love. Full stop," Vaillant says. So, even 12 years later, if you're still looking for the path back to happiness, direct your attention to creating and developing relationships. Reach out to those whose lives were devastated. Focus your lingering anger, despair and frustration on helping those who lost loved ones on that tragic day. Find a way to support the young men and women who committed themselves to defending our nation as a result of the attack.
As we look for ways to return to our pre-9/11 happiness, we should seek opportunities to restore what the terrorists tried to destroy. When we recall the tragedy of September 11, we should direct our outrage to connecting with others and alleviating suffering wherever and however we can.
For more by Leah Yomtovian Roush, click here.
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