How to live a meaningful life, according to Frankl
I spent most of the time reading Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning in my garden, as the weak winter sun warmed my bones and pink bougainvillea petals emerged slowly, rushed by no one. Despite barely mentioning the atrocities of the concentration camp, every couple of pages I would still need to look up at the clear blue sky and tell myself there was still so much goodness in this world.
Frankl has written a most powerful and inspiring book on how we can change our lives for the better by changing our attitude and by choosing to see what pain makes us forget. There is so much power concentrated in this work, and although I could never do justice to what he has written, I wanted to share some of the main points that can teach you how to live a meaningful life, so you can start 2017 on a stronger foot and with a softer mind.
You must have a rich inner life – Even in the atrocities of the camp, where people suffered in unimaginable ways, those who had a rich intellectual life experienced less damage to their inner selves Frankl explains. If you are familiar with my posts, then you know how much I value the importance of daydreams, (one daydream changed my whole entire life) because learning to wander will help you to be more creative and more than that, to see beauty in the world even when things look bleak. Just think, if Proust had not had a rich inner life, we would never have In Search of Lost Time.
You must have a sense of humor – Humor is “the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation,” Frankl writes. It may only lead to a two-second chuckle amid hours of terrible sadness but humor can still bring you respite on your worst days.
You must be grateful – For the tiniest, simplest of things. In the camp, the prisoners were grateful “for the smallest mercies.” In a world which often leads us to believe that we need more — success, material things, love — choosing to be grateful is choosing to be present and happier.
Self-worth is priceless – I can’t tell you that you will automatically succeed when you start believing in what you are capable of doing. What I do believe, however, more than anything else, is that when you give yourself what you deserve, and when you pursue that which gives meaning to your life, then you will be stronger in handling rejection, failure and other difficulties that come your way.
Living in the past means giving up on living – Frankl talks about some of the men in camp who “preferred to close their eyes and to live in the past,” degenerating in the process. The past may be alluring because we can never have it back, and while knowing our past can be good for us, we should lead a life with a future goal that gives us hope.
Art and nature can provide beauty when we most need it – “If someone had seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to a Bavarian camp as we beheld the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset, through the little barred windows of the prison carriage, he would never have believed that those were the faces of men who had given up all hope of life and liberty,” Frankl writes, as he describes how appreciative the prisoners were of nature. At one point, a glimpse at a beautiful sky reminded one prisoner, “How beautiful the world could be!”
There is meaning in suffering and you must find it – No matter what you are going through, finding meaning in this pain is the only way you can endure it and learn how to live a meaningful life even in suffering.
Nobody has a right to do wrong to others – Some prisoners had to learn slowly, once they were out of the camp, that even if terrible things had been done to them, they still had no right to inflict pain on others.
The rarest, most beautiful things come with great difficulty – These are Spinoza’s words but Frankl uses this sentence twice in the book and maybe it’s because he wants it to stick in our minds to teach us how to live a meaningful life. In an age where efficiency and a quick turnaround are expected in every form, Spinoza’s words give us hope to keep pursuing what’s rare and beautiful, despite how difficult a journey it can be.
Human kindness can be found everywhere – Even in the concentration camp, Frankl notes moments when human kindness came from those who were part of the enemy group.
Imagine you are 80 years old… – “lying on your deathbed,” how would you feel about your life? Frankl asks. Would you regret doing or not doing certain things? Would you be able to give meaning to the pain you went through? I once told you how I like to live as if I am 70 years old and Frankl only reaffirmed this point for me.
Even if good people are the minority, goodness can still reign – “There is an ancient Jewish legend, according to which the existence of the world depends on there always being thirty-six – no more than thirty-six! – righteous people in the world,” writes Frankl. Call me an optimist but I don’t believe good people are in the minority, even in today’s world, but even if they were, Frankl makes a good point in convincing us that a tiny voice spreading goodness can still leave a positive mark on a world that is often overshadowed by darkness.
Meaning is the primary force of life – This is the basis of Frankl’s Logotherapy, that “this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.” Meaning can change from year to year and even from week to week but nevertheless, we need meaning to move forward.
Love stands above everything else – In Frankl’s own words: “For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.”
Story credits: Victor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.’