Finding Day to Day Meaning and Limitless Freedom: Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning has been recommended to me by everyone from Tony Robbins to Tim Ferris and for some reason it still took me years to finally dig in. Having just put it down I must say that I’m moved and encouraged–Inspired actually. Moved first off from learning more of the horrific things that happened in Viktor’s 3+ years in Nazi concentration camps. But even moreso from how he chose to deal with that life situation.
This is not simply another recount of the terrible conditions of life inside a concentration camp. It is a bit of that, but it is much more. Frankl, a lifelong devotee to psychology and his personally-developed technique of logotherapy, found himself in a concentration camp totally stripped of everything that previously defined who he was.
He tells his story to get across two fascinatingly simple yet unbelievably applicable ideals or approaches to life and one’s situations. They are the foundation of lifetimes worth of study and healing through the likes of Tony Robbins, Robin Sharma and all kinds of practical and practicing psychologists.
They are as follows:
1.The quest for meaning is key to the mental health and human flourishing. One must always find a meaning for their life to find day to day happiness and fulfillment.
Without meaning one quickly loses any reason to live. Frankl learned that without finding some meaning while in the concentration camp, his fate would surely and quickly be death. While many people around him could find nothing but anger and fear and revenge inside of them (who could blame them), Frankl (having felt those emotions as well) realized that he needed a reason to get up each day. He needed a meaning. He found this in dreaming of the future. Of spending time with his wife upon his release. Of staying alive so that he could greet her on the other side.
He also found meaning in his writing. He had started a manuscript prior to the camps and knew no one else could complete it. Identifying meaning with being able to finish his book one day and share it with the world allowed him to endure conditions that no human being should ever be subject to.
People often refer to the meaning of life as some unattainable idealist thinking. An unanswerable question of sorts. But often they are over thinking it. Meaning can be so simple. It can be saving a flower, raising a child, teaching a student or making your wife smile. Anything as long as you associate meaning to it.
The most widespread lack of meaning may very well come from those who retire and soon find themselves bored and without purpose. They spent years identifying their meaning with their career. And now that it’s gone, they feel they have nothing left to live for. This begins to explain why so many people die within a few years of retirement.
As soon as one’s meaning fades another one must be found. If you find yourself unemployed then for the time being perhaps find meaning in volunteering and helping someone who needs more guidance than you (because there is always someone in such a place). Do something to shift the thinking from yourself, to that of others. With a meaning to life, anything is possible and Viktor Frankl’s life experiences have proven this.
“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
2. No matter what happens, one always retains the freedom to respond to their situation (or their suffering in Frankl’s case).
This I believe warrants less explanation. Freedom can be found anywhere. It is a value that so many of us put on such a pedestal. Yet we often give it a rule that makes it almost impossible to achieve. Maybe we feel we must be free to travel anywhere we’d like, whenever we’d like. Or perhaps, to own our own schedule. These are huge rules and almost impossible to satisfy (especially if one wishes to have much relation and accountability to the rest of the world). To be honest, these used to be my rules for freedom.
What Frankl learned in camp was that man’s freedom in its simplest form comes down to his ability to choose his reactions to things. To choose the emotions he feels. It’s true that you cannot control what others do to you but the only person in the world who can control your reactions to those things is you. To most it looked like the prisoners of the concentration camps had every right known to man stripped from them. But no matter what the guards did to Frankl there was one thing they could never take from him–his ability to choose his reaction to things. He was free as long as he could choose what to think and how to feel, and no one can take this from another person.
With this definition how could you ever be anything but free? Imagine the weight lifted off your shoulders as soon as you decide to define freedom in the way Viktor has as opposed to the stringent way of the past? You would (and will) allow yourself to live freedom every day.
As I sat down this year to review my values for 2010, this was something that completely changed the game for me. I had Freedom as my top value yet my rule was what I described above of being able to travel wherever and whenever I wanted. But I am an entrepreneur. I have clients. I have a fiancee. I have charities and organizations which depend on me. So how could I ever feel free? The answer was I could not. Not until I adopted this new simplified definition of freedom. I cannot explain the difference in feeling. The lightness that flows through so much more of my life.
Sometimes it’s the worst of conditions, the crucibles as Bill George puts it in True North, that define us and force us to find the best and often the simplest answers. Viktor’s tragic time in the camps did that and the world is so much the better as a result. As you go into this new year, stand guard at the window of your mind, remember your freedom to choose and do not overthink your meaning. No matter your circumstances there is a meaning, a purpose. If Viktor found one, we all can as well. Live with some freedom and meaning this year and enjoy what life has to offer.
~Reading for Your Success
Other books and articles you might enjoy: