Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a reflection.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitudes in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
Anything can be taken from you. Your fortune, your success, your status, your education, your loved ones, and your happiness. When it happens, all that you possess is your naked existence.
That’s what happened—or even worse—to Viktor E. Frankl when he was sent to a Nazi concentration camp. His life’s work was destroyed. His full reputation was useless.
He was not able to clean his teeth. He wore the same shirt for half a year until they had lost all appearance of being shirts.
For days he was unable to wash, even partially, because of frozen water-pipes, and yet the sores and abrasions on hands which were dirty from work in the soil did not suppurate.
Frankl repeatedly quotes the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a Why to live can bear almost any How.” Despite what he’d been through, he managed to mentally and physically survive the concentration camp; and found meaning in life in an unlikely place and situation.
So, below are several quotes and inspirations of the book along with my short reflection.
“But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have reason to be happy.
Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically.”
When you have an incurable disease, would you still be happy? When your life’s work crumbles before your eyes, would you still be happy?
Happiness can end with a life’s tragedy. It is something that you want but never consistently yours. And it is emotionally and mentally draining every time it disappears. That is why Frankl said that happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. For happiness is just a side-effect of a deed.
So instead of wanting to be happy, find the reason why you should be happy and articulate the meaning of that happiness. Once you know the reason and meaning, happiness will then ensue; you become happy automatically.
“Suffering is unavoidable. If it is avoidable, the meaningful thing to do
is to remove its cause, for unnecessary suffering is masochistic rather than heroic.
If, on the other hand, one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering,
he can still choose his attitude.”
How many times do you have to hear that life is hard, life is difficult, life is malevolent, life is full of suffering before you accept the fact that life will never be without a touch of suffering?
When you fail an examination, it is the exam that you fail at not your life. When you end a relationship, it is the relationship that you end not your life. When you face a difficult situation, it is the situation that is difficult not your life.
In this life, you would find yourself in painful and regretful situations. And, you would really suffer at some point. You may not be able to change that fact, at least you can still choose your attitude towards something that you suffer for.
Keep in mind, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.
“A man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize
that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life;
and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life.”
Why do you feel so empty? Why do you think that your life has no meaning? The feeling of emptiness and the thought of life’s meaninglessness is what Viktor Frankl called existential vacuum.
The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. And boredom comes when you have nothing meaningful to do or when you feel that your life lacks content.
You should not ask what is the meaning of life, but rather you must recognize that it is you who is asked.
You have your own mission in life, you have your own wishes and desires, and you have your own short and long-term plans which demand fulfillment. Thus, your answer to what is the meaning of life is as unique as you are.
But how can you discover the meaning of life?
“When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable
disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.”
According to Logotherapy, Logos is a Greek word that denotes “meaning”, you can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
- Doing something significant that gives you a sense of achievement and accomplishments.
- Caring for someone or loving someone. Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him
- Choosing courage in difficult times. Be reminded that you may also find meaning in life when confronted with a hopeless situation. If a hopeless situation does not give you any meaning or significance at all, why it would bother you.
But situations—such as feeling stuck in life—allow you to unlock another level of your potential. Situations that demand you to struggle and strive—for a worthwhile goal—allow you to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, a predicament into an achievement.
Viktor Frankl is not saying that you must deliberately put yourself in a situation that you know you would only suffer in order to find meaning, he only insists that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering. It is true when you are no longer able to change your situation, you are challenged to change yourself.
“It is we ourselves who must answer the questions that life asks of us,
and to these questions, we can respond only by being responsible for our existence.”
Wherever you are coming from, you are subject to life’s greatest question. What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? Who am I going to be? What am I going to do next?
And your task is to discover the answers and meaning by actualizing the responsibility that these questions ask of you—to search for answers, to search for meaning.
Remember, your greatest task is to take up responsibility in finding the meaning of your own life.
Nobody can give a definite answer to what is the meaning of your life, but yourself.
For the meaning of life differs from person to person, from time to time even. What is important is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific realized meaning of your life at a given time and situation.
Whatever you are going through, to borrow the words of Nietzsche, remember this: “He who has a why can bear almost any how.”
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My 2020 goal is to read a book per month; share with people what I learn from and feel about the book. For November 2020, the book I read is Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (Click here. Free with your Audible trial.)
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