Apr 202010
Most bored by Sally Bradshaw

During World War II, Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and eminent psychotherapist, spent 3 long years as prisoner 119104 in the concentration camps enduring unimaginable suffering. Soon after his release, Frankl recorded his experiences in his book, “Man’s search for meaning.” He wanted to show that life had meaning under any circumstances. Although many of his fellow prisoners died in the camps, Frankl survived. Apart from luck, the reason for his survival was the inner strength he derived from his meaning in life. What does this mean for us? It means that we too can learn how to create meaning in our lives that will empower us. With this meaning, we can achieve more than we ever considered possible.

The Meaninglessness of Life

Frankl noted that the meaninglessness of life or the existential vacuum was a widespread phenomenon of the 20th century. He came to this conclusion through his surveys amongst his European and American students. Now that we are in the 21st century, this phenomenon shows no signs of abating. A simple search on Google produces countless articles on the meaninglessness of life.

Frustration by Rachel K

Why So Many People Find Life Meaningless?

In this technologically advanced and interconnected age, we have more free time than we can manage. The result is boredom. To alleviate this, industries have sprung up to provide us with various types of entertainment. But what was interesting yesterday quickly loses its appeal the next day. And so we move from distraction to distraction trying to find something that will keep us entertained. Then there is our material needs and wants. Despite endless possibilities and choices, it is never enough. Worsening matters, people have increasingly turned away from religion and traditions. Without a spiritual anchor or some form of philosophical guideline, it is difficult for us to make sense of this world. Since nothing can satisfy us for long and there is nothing to show us how to live, it is unsurprising that life is meaningless for many.

Old family picture of the Martinez family by Marina Avila

The Importance of Taking Responsibility

Before we can create meaning in our lives, we have to be aware of our responsibility to our selves and to others. We alone are responsible for our lives; our physical, metal and emotional wellbeing. It is therefore up to us to create and to define a purpose or a combination of purposes that we find meaningful. No one else can or should do this for us. It is only when we have the courage to walk a freely chosen path that our lives come to have deep significance. We need to be masters of our destiny instead of victim of circumstances.

But if we lived only for ourselves, there is only so much we can achieve. What good is the world, if we have no one to share it with or to leave it to? While occasional moments of solitude are healthy, loneliness only strengthens the meaninglessness of our lives. Therefore we have to realize our interdependence on others, especially our loved ones and vice versa. It could be the simple things like being there for someone. Or it could be bringing up your children and sending them to university. To these people, our lives are special and irreplaceable. For the sake of our loved ones, we will have to acquire the means and the ability to nurture and protect them.

Once we have taken responsibility, the next thing we have to deal with is change. The only constant in life is change. With change we will face unique opportunities and challenges which we need to manage. Sometimes we have to act boldly to seize the opportunities. Other times we have to endure and wait for the right moment to overcome adversity. But at all times, we have to be able and ready to deal with the various changes we will face. Only by never giving up can we hope to fulfil our responsibilities.

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The Importance of Striving Towards a Future Goal

By nature, Man is not suited to a prolonged existence of ease and leisure. This only results in various health problems, boredom and a general downward spiral. But by challenging ourselves, we can create meaning in our lives. However, we have to accept this challenge willingly and to rise up to fulfil it. We have to be willing to emerge from our comfort zone, to become more than we already are and to be all that we can be. It is through this striving to fulfil a future goal and to develop our potential to do so that our lives become meaningful. What then should this goal, task or challenge be?

Future goal by Tolga Kostak

Guidelines to Creating Meaning in Life

Through logotherapy, Frankl’s own creation of psychotherapy, he notes that it is possible to create meaning in our lives in the following ways:

-By Fulfilling a Work, a Cause or a Deed

We can create meaning through some work that only our unique existence can carry out. With this goal in mind, everything we do contributes to the work which we wish to accomplish. The work itself varies from individual to individual. For some, it could be finishing a book that shares their unique knowledge and experience. For others it could be career, opening up an orphanage or even a company.

One of the driving forces that kept Frankl alive in the concentration camps was his desire to publish his first book. He believed that his work was not only important, but that no one else but he could finish it. This belief sustained Frankl’s will to survive. He knew why he had to live and bravely endured the hardships to do so.

Sunset by Auro Queiroz

-By Experiencing Something

According to Frankl, we can also create meaning by experiencing something like goodness, beauty, nature or culture. For example, for those who love nature, being close and connected to it would fill their lives with meaning. This could also tie-in with the work of protecting or working with nature. One of Frankl’s experiences in the camps involved the beauty of the setting sun and its moving effect on the prisoners. This experience reminded the prisoners that beauty and meaning existed even in their bleak world. This was something that the camp wardens couldn’t take away from them.

-By Loving Someone

Love is one of the most powerful forces in this world. When we love someone, we wish to protect them and to help them develop their potential. We want nothing but their happiness. But to do so, we require the means. This could take the form of money for our children’s education or personal growth to become a better person for those we love. As such love can be a powerful motivator and meaning for our existence when we devote ourselves to our loved ones. The loved ones in question could be a spouse, a child, parents, family and even dear friends.

At many low points during his time in imprisonment, Frankl also drew strength from the love he had for his wife. His love for her sustained and comforted him. He reminded himself that he had to live if he wanted to see her again. For her sake he could not give in to despair or give up hope. By creating meaning through love, Frankl gained the inner strength he needed to survive.

-By the Way We Face Unavoidable Suffering

When we cannot avoid suffering or change an adverse situation despite every possible effort to do so, there is only thing left to do. We must suffer bravely with dignity. Suffering is difficult. It takes the greatest of courage to bear the greatest of suffering. Such a situation could be a terminal illness or the loss of a loved one. But as Frankl wisely put it, “Suffering ceases to be suffering the moment we find a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

Frankl recounts the story of a fellow inmate who made a deal with Heaven on his arrival at the concentration camps. He would face his suffering and death bravely and with dignity. In return, he hoped that his suffering would spare his loved one a painful death. Through his sacrifice, suffering and death became meaningful and significant for this man.

Taking Action

Frankl fulfilled, as best as he could, the tasks and lessons that life had set for him. By bravely enduring his suffering in the concentration camp, he gained a deeper understanding of his fellow man. But that was just the first step. For the rest of his long life, he put this acquired wisdom to good use by helping others create their own meaning through logotherapy.

You too must answer the questions that life has given you. What will you choose to live and fight for? Are you using our unique opportunities to carry out the tasks that life has set for you? Are you becoming all that you can be for the sake of someone or something? What meaning can you create for your life?

To answer the questions above is not easy. And when you have found the answers you will have to face the challenges of carrying them out. If you have any uncertainty about the path that lies ahead for you, you can try out my consultation services. Whatever questions you may have, I am here to help you to create that meaning and to find your way in life.


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  11 Responses to “How to Create Meaning in Life”

  1. Hey old friend, love your posts. This one in particular has given me an insight into my own life. Words are such feeble things sometimes, they cannot fully express what we want to say. So I’ll just leave a ‘thank you’ here…from the bottom of my heart.

    • Hi Dan,

      So nice of you to drop by. :)

      I am glad that my posts have been helpful in giving you insights into your life.

      Thank you for your comments old friend, I appreciate it! :)

  2. Nicely written post Irving! That book has been on my list for years, perhaps this is a reminder to check it out. :)
    Tina Su recently posted..Becoming a MillionaireMy Profile

    • Hi Tina,

      You won’t regret reading Man’s Search for Meaning. It is one of the books that has shaped my life and I have reread it a few times. It is one of the few books that I actually reread.

      Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving your comments! :)

  3. Through his sacrifice, suffering and death became meaningful and significant for this man.
    This does work. It does make it easier. I enjoy reading your spiritual posts. It is a quality that is so lacking today.
    Barbara Zarrella recently posted..Exploring Thomas MertonMy Profile

    • Hi Barbara,

      Thank you for the compliments. :)

      Only by giving meaning to our sacrifice does suffering and death become more bearable for us.

      I always try to make sure that an approach works for me and feels right before I share it. Viktor Frankl did play an important role in shaping how I view life. It was through his experiences that I learned how to create that meaning in my life and I shall always be grateful to him for that.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  4. I think one of the most fundamental questions we come to ask in our lives is “what is the purpose of my life?” which can be transcribed into “How meaningful is the life I am living at the moment?” This is a personalization of the more general and philosophical question “What is the meaning of life and everything.

    • Hi Blinds,

      Those are great questions you have shared and we should all seek to answer them for ourselves.

      The answers we come up with will help us to live more meaningful lives.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  5. That’s one great, inspiring post. What Frankl apparently managed to endure is beyond any imagination of mine. If people have problems creating a meaningful life in our modern society, what kind of inner strength was needed in order to do that in a concentration camp? And, indeed, helping others has to be a part of everybody’s purpose and meaning of life, no matter how different it might be.
    Sunny recently posted..How to Keep People in Your Life and Make Them Like YouMy Profile

    • Hi Sunny,

      Thank you for the compliments! :)

      I am not sure I would have had the mental strength to endure what Frankl did. I certainly won’t wish such suffering on anyone. Yet we cannot take peace for granted since war and all its destruction can happen when we least expect it.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  6. I agree. There is meaning to life. What is meaningful to me may not be meaningful to anyone else, but if we continue to the discussion maybe there are points of intersection.
    Candice Michelle recently posted..best concealed carry holsterMy Profile

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