What we can learn from an ex-prisoner of a concentration camp.
One of the most beautiful books I have had the pleasure of reading is Viktor Frankl?s ?Man?s Search for Meaning?. Leafing through the pages gives you such a deep perspective on life, suffering, and the meaning of it all, that at times you are left gasping for air.
Every page is so full of realizations, profound statements, and hidden nuggets of wisdom. You will find yourself reading and rereading certain passages in order to better grasp the lessons.
Viktor Frankl was a man who lived through an experience that is hard to imagine for a person of today?s world. For four years of his life, he lived in a concentration camp, herded around like cattle, surviving on meagre rations of food, and not knowing whether he was going to live to see the next day.
Yet survive he did, for he showed enormous willpower and courage to make it through this day, and then the next day that would come, and the next, all the way until his liberation came.
The reason why he was able to do that was because he found meaning in his experience, and a sense of purpose that willed him to survive.
He lived through that horrible experience so that he could teach others to live a better life. As a psychiatrist, he developed a method called logotherapy, that he used for treating patients who suffered from depression, substance abuse, anxiety, and various other problems.
It was based on Frankl?s observation that those people who survived the concentration camps during the Holocaust, were the ones who found the strongest will to live by finding meaning.
Frankl then surmised that the primary force that motivates people in life is to find meaning. He called it ?will to meaning?.
This is similar to what some other philosophers have proposed as the main motivating factors for people: Friedrich Nietzsche?s will to power, and Sigmund Freud?s will to pleasure.
If you take the ideas of these 3 philosophers together, you can see that most people are driven by one of these factors:
- Will to power
- Will to pleasure
- Will to meaning
While all these have explanatory power on the human condition, it is only Frankl?s concept that gives you a prescription on how to live a happier life.
Frankl?s insights have greatly helped many people who have faced existential questions. His methods helped them to find a meaning and a purpose, and thereby a will to live.
His ideas are quite profound and inspirational, and if you are a person that is searching for meaning and/or purpose, they can help you in that quest. Above all, they can give you a direction for your life.
This can be priceless.
1. Find a Why
?Those who have a ?why? to live, can bear with almost any ?how?.?? Viktor E. Frankl
?If you find a why, then you can bear any how.? This is one of the most profound statements of the entire book. If you find your purpose, then you can overcome any challenge that life throws at you.
Finding meaning in your experiences, and having a purpose, can create a fortress of the mind that?ll shield you from life?s many hardships.
This reminds me of ancient Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius? advice to be like a rock which breaks all the waves that crash against it. Having a why can make you into that rock.
Frankl found his why, and that turned him into a rock that nothing could touch. His mind became strong, and allowed him to survive in conditions where most perished.
2. Success and Happiness Cannot Be Pursued
?Don?t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one?s personal dedication to a cause greater.? ? Viktor Frankl
You cannot pursue success or happiness. These things are outside your control. Instead, success and happiness come out of your daily actions, and out of your mindset.
If you dedicate yourself to a cause, whatever it may be, success and happiness will ensue as a direct result of you striving for that cause. Stop chasing happiness, it will come to you.
3. You Choose Your Own Attitude
?Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms ? to choose one?s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one?s own way.?? Viktor E. Frankl
There are unfortunately many things outside of your control, and they can impact your life greatly. Outside circumstances often hit hard, making life very difficult.
Viktor Frankl met one of the most horrible fates that you can imagine. He was locked up in a concentration camp, surrounded by death, at risk of dying himself.
Yet he tried to make the best of his circumstances. He found meaning in his suffering, and this meaning got him through the worst of days. It carried him and willed him to go on when he was at the edge of death.
This is very similar to the Stoic mantra that it is not the events that matter, but your judgments over these events. Frankl found himself in horrible circumstances but chose his own way. This saved his life.
4. If You Can?t Change a Situation, Change Yourself
?When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.?? Viktor E. Frankl
When you are faced with situations out of your control, you need to adapt to those circumstances. You need to find meaning in that situation. That is, to find what you can learn from it, and discover ways to carry you through.
5. Suffering Ceases to Be Suffering When it Finds Meaning
?In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.?? Viktor E. Frankl
Frankl found meaning in his suffering. Once you find a meaning in what you are going through, then it is no longer suffering. Frankl?s purpose was to survive, reunite with his loved ones, and tell people what had happened and what he had learned. This is what willed him through.
6. Love is the Only Way to Grasp Another Human Being
?Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.? ? Viktor Frankl
The story also has a sad part. One meaning that was carrying him through was the thought of his wife, of being able to see her again. She was in a different camp, and every night Frankl would have imaginary conversations with her.
This kept him sane and made him carry on. Unfortunately, after the war, Frankl found out that his wife was not so lucky. She perished in the camp.
Love is a powerful force that can get you through the toughest of circumstances. Love also allows you to get to the innermost core of the personality of another person. The heart is a powerful motivator, the one thing that gets you going, when other things fail.
7. The World Might Be in a Bad State, But We All Must Play a Part to Make it Better
?For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.?? Viktor E. Frankl
There are many things wrong with the world. We have experienced economic problems, terrorism, wars, and pandemics. Often bad people make it worse.
However, it is up to each of us to do a little part to make the world a better place. As individuals, we might not do much, but when you combine the individuals into a larger group, there is power. And that power can change the world, for the better.
Find your own meaning in the world, and find a purpose to get you through. Link this purpose to a larger whole, only in that way can we create a better world for everyone.
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