“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.'”
― Viktor Frankl
So I thought I would take a different approach to this blog post and talk about one of my favorite books, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel. I recommend it to almost anyone I come across and believe it’s message has truly stood the tests of time.
Viktor Frankl wrote this book in 1946, one year after World War II. It starts with his chronicling of his life and experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. He would live in a total of 4 camps, including Auschwitz. During his time in the camps, he started developing his theory that would later be known as logotherapy. He observed that those who survived the longest were not necessarily the most physically fit. The ones who survived were the ones that maintained a sense of hope and control in their environment. He believed that we could find hope in even the darkest of places and that our motivation for life comes from meaning.
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances—to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl
Frankl postulated that when we do not have meaning or purpose for our lives our mental health begins to deteriorate. When we realize our lives are lacking purpose that is when we start becoming anxious and using coping skills like binge eating, alcohol, avoidance, overspending, etc. Depression, he claims, stems from when the person we are doesn’t match the person we want to be and the gap between the two is so large we can no longer ignore it.
According to Frankl, meaning can be found through:
- Experiencing reality by interacting authentically with the environment and with others,
- Giving something back to the world through creativity and self-expression, and
- Changing our attitude when faced with a situation or circumstance that we cannot change.
Or translated: purposeful work, love, and courage in the face of difficulty. We are all unique and therefore meaning for life varies from person to person.
In, An Overview of Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy, Arlin Cucnic lists the following as ways we can use logotherapy in our daily lives:
- Create something. Just as Frankl suggested, creating something (e.g., art) gives you a sense of purpose, which can add meaning to your life.
- Develop relationships. The supportive nature of spending time with others will help you to develop more of a sense of meaning in your life.
- Find purpose in pain. If you are going through something bad, try to find a purpose in it. Even if this is a bit of mental trickery, it will help to see you through. For example, if a family member is going through medical treatments for a disease, view your purpose as being there to support that person.
- Understand that life is not fair. There is nobody keeping score, and you will not necessarily be dealt a fair deck. However, life can always have meaning, even in the worst of situations.
- Freedom to find meaning. Remember that you are always free to make meaning out of your life situation. Nobody can take that away from you.
- Focus on others. Try to focus outside of yourself to get through feeling stuck about a situation.
- Accept the worst. When you go out seeking the worse, it reduces the power that it has over you.