How to start your search for meaning
and the four places you'll find them
If you’re on a search for meaning in your life… there can surely be no better place to start than by reading the ideas of Viktor Frankl – in his book ‘Man’s search for meaning’
Viktor Frankl was an extraordinary man
Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.
His wife, father, mother and brother died in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.
He survived but endured extreme hunger, cold and brutality, both at Auschwitz and Dachau.
To top it all, he lost all his belongings on his first day in the camps – including a scientific manuscript that he considered his life’s work.
Throughout his imprisonment, he lived under a constant threat of being sent to the gas ovens.
So, if anyone had good reasons to believe that life was meaningless, it was surely Viktor Frankl.
And yet, he said the opposite.
Having endured unimaginable pain and misery he emerged as an optimist and argued…
… that we have the freedom to choose how we see our circumstances – however terrible they are.
This is something the ancient Stoics called the ‘last freedom’.
Frankl also founded Logotherapy, a form of Psychotherapy based on the belief that striving for meaning (not riches or power) is the most powerful motivating force for humans.
In his book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ Frankl introduces us to his idea of ‘logotherapy’ which he says helped him survive his Holocaust experience.
One of Frankl’s favourite quotes is this, from Nietzsche. And he, as much as anyone, would have surely tested the truth of this, to its limit.
He who has a WHY to live can bear with almost any HOW (Nietzsche)
The challenge of too much freedom
In his work, Frankl makes the point that the modern person has almost too much freedom to deal with.
Long gone are the days when we lived solely by our instincts. We are free to choose but face an overwhelming choice of directions…
… and few of us believe that traditions offer the best guides on what to choose.
So, it’s tempting to escape the struggle to find ‘meaning’ by acquiring more money, better clothes, a new car, a bigger house etc… or consuming more alcohol, drugs, sex or violence.
In short, anything that holds out a promise to make us feel alive.
Of course, at some point in our lives (and especially in our teenage years) we may conclude that we’re ‘bored’ with what’s on offer from ordinary life.
And, if we also feel powerless to change our situation (as may be the case at school or in a job we hate, but need to stick at, for the money) we may seek out these distractions to blank out our unpleasant reality.
This might work for a few hours, days or weeks… but when reality kicks back in – our situation is often worse; we’re late for class, fall behind on our studies and drop out of school or Uni.
Or, in later life, we’re late for work, perform poorly at it, and lose our job.
Finding more meaning in life displaces those wasteful and unhealthy cravings and promises real pleasure from real life.
And that’s got to be worth exploring right?
So, what are the real sources of meaning
Well, according to Frankl they include:
- Creating a useful work or doing a useful deed
- Experiencing something worthwhile
- Encountering someone wonderful (love)
- The attitude we take to unavoidable suffering
Which, I think, is a useful list to remember, whenever we get stuck.
And that last point may be particularly important for us in the so-called developed world, where we spend a lot of time, money and effort trying to avoid (or change) distressing events and painful circumstances.
Surely the better approach, because of the enormous long term benefit it offers… is to simply accept that we’ll have some discomfort in our lives from time to time. To face into those discomforts – and learn from them, if lessons are available (sometimes they’re not) to improve our situation as best we can.
This is the ‘mindful’ approach to life
This is a life in which we accept, without evaluation or judgement, both ourselves and our current situation.
So, it’s non-judgmental, we neither approve nor disapprove of it – we simply and calmly recognize any negative situations and their impact.
We do not seek to hide from them or become overwhelmed and fall into intense, desperate or destructive emotional reactions.
Or as Frankl said
We accept life’s ‘truths’ and we deal with them.
It’s not easy, I know, and I’m certainly not claiming perfection in these areas either 😉
But I’d hope we’d all agree that this mindful approach to life can help us…
… to make better decisions about whether and how to take action…
… which is what this site is all about.
Helping you achieve more of what matters to you.
I hope that’s helpful.
Thanks for dropping in,
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