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.
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.
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.
When dealing with changes, the unknown can be unsettling. To have peace of mind or to find out more about a potential choice or action, you may turn to Han of Harmony for assistance.
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?
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.
-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.
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.