Do You want to Know the meaning of Life?
If you’re looking for the meaning of life, Viktor Frankl is your man. Helping others find their meaning life was his meaning of life. During his prolific 92 years, he helped millions do so. And even though he died in 1997, he can help you too.
If COncentration Camp Prisoners could find Meaning, so Can YOu
Frankl survived three years imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps. Even in those most hopeless of circumstances, he helped countless fellow prisoners find meaning to their suffering. He prevented one man from giving up by helping him realize that his meaning of life was to survive to raise his child, who was waiting for him safely in another country. Another, a scientist, realized with Frankl’s help that his meaning was to finish writing his book on a topic no one else in the world could write.
As Frankl demonstrates with these examples, the key to finding your own meaning is to think not of what you expect from the world, but of what the world expects from you. The world expected the father to survive to raise his son and the scientist to survive to enlighten us with his discoveries.
What is the World Expecting From You?
No matter how dire your circumstances, the world expects something of you. Find what that is and you’ll find the meaning you need to power through. As Frankl quotes from Friederich Nietzche,
“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”
The Meaning Of Life Changes
If you ask yourself the meaning of life, you’re asking the wrong question. Just like asking a grandmaster chess player, “What’s the best move in the world?” there is no right answer. The best chess move depends on your position in the game, who you’re playing with, and many other factors. So too does the meaning of life.
As Frankl writes, “The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day, and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” Instead of searching for the meaning of life, search for the meaning of the moment.
What holds us back from finding meaning is that we toss aside responsibility in pursuit of freedom. But freedom without responsibility is meaningless, since meaning is derived from what the world holds us responsible for. That’s why Frankl famously (and jokingly) recommended that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
Even without freedom, you can still find meaning, so long as you take responsibility. As Frankl writes, “If one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still choose his attitude.”
A greater meanIng
If you don’t believe the world expects anything of you, consider the following thought experiment Frankl posed to his students:
Imagine scientists are testing a potentially life-saving serum on an ape before applying it to humans. Does this ape, who suffers being pricked by needles every day, understand the meaning of its suffering? No. But just because it doesn’t understand its meaning doesn’t mean it doesn’t have one.
Ask yourself this: How can you be sure you aren’t like the ape and there isn’t a level of intelligence beyond yours that holds the ultimate meaning to our suffering? You can’t. So just because you can’t understand your meaning doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Frankl coined the term “autobibiliotherapy”—healing through reading—after hearing countless stories of people who healed themselves with his book, Man’s Search For Meaning. If you are looking for meaning in your life and found the above ideas inspiring, get the book and have your autobibliotherapy session.
And if you’re still uncertain about whether or not to pick up the book, check out this video to get a sense of what you’ll be missing:http://ted.com/talks/view/id/857