Find something to live for
I've just finished reading Viktor Frankl's “Man’s Search for Meaning”, which I think is a very interesting book. Frankl is a neurologist and psychiatrist who has developed a theory called Logotherapy.
The three core ideas of his theory are that life has meaning even under the worst imaginable circumstances; our core drive as humans is our search for meaning; and that we all have the freedom to discover what has meaning for us.
Frankl is a Jew who survived a number of years in a Nazi concentration camp. He provides graphic descriptions of the horrors of being a prisoner in these camps. Most people have a pretty good idea of what occurred during the Holocaust, so I’m not going to go into details of these descriptions. I will say, however, that such a personal view did help me to understand these events better.
The inmates at the camps were stripped of all personal possessions upon their arrival. Because of this Frankl lost the manuscript of a psychiatric theory he’d been developing before the Holocaust. He decided to use his experiences in the camp to further develop this theory. He was also determined to survive the experience and so he could record his findings.
He was thus able to use his theory about the importance of meaning in life in order to survive. That is, he gave meaning to his life even though he was living under the most miserable circumstances imaginable. Despite the near-certainty of death, the beatings, the hunger, and the cold, Frankl found a reason to go on.
This is the core of the human spirit, according to the theory. If we can find something to live for – if we can find some meaning to put at the center of our lives – even the worst kind of suffering becomes bearable.
In fact, meaning can even be found in our reaction to difficult circumstances. By being determined to preserve some measure of their humanity, in spite of the Nazi’s efforts to steal it away, many were able to survive the concentration camps.
An example of this in today’s world may be a mother who finds her life empty because her only son has committed suicide. It's still possible for her to find a purpose for her life, even in this terrible circumstance, by realizing that she is keeping a part of her son alive within her mind. Her child still has some existence through her memories of him. She can also find meaning in the quiet dignity with which she bears the pain.
Dr Frankl says many of his patients come to him with an idea of him providing meaning for them, but insists that this is generally not possible to do. Instead, it's up to each of us to discover what the meaning of our lives is for ourselves.
Perhaps there is something for you to create, or a child for you to rear, or someone for you to love. These are just suggestions to get you thinking.
There is one interesting section of the book where he states that modern culture makes this search more difficult than it used to be. For prehistoric man, mere survival was so difficult that it created meaning. Up until the 20th century, many people had meaning provided through the religion and traditions of their upbringing.
But Western societies now have a type of nihilism at their core. That is, they assume that life is meaningless and the universe is random. They are unable to provide us with the reason for being alive which we seek.
So, more than ever, the responsibility falls on ourselves to discover that meaning. We are the only ones who can find something that makes our lives seem worthwhile.
Dr Frankl describes an interesting occurrence in the concentration camp that can tell us a lot about modern life. He says the prisoners could always tell when one of them was going to die soon, because that person would start talking about how they could find no reason to go on living.
Often, according to Frankl, such a doomed prisoner would suddenly refuse to get up and leave their hut for work in the morning. They would simply lie on the floor in their own filth, and no amount of beatings or persuasion could get them to move. However, such prisoners could often be seen smoking a cigarette while lying there.
Even when they had chosen to give up on life, they still sought bodily pleasures.
While this is an extreme example, you can see echoes of it in the problems of many people today. Despite finding no real reason to live, many still continue to pursue cheap thrills. They take drugs, engage in loveless sex, and consume violent entertainment.
In fact, those who can find no meaning seem to chase such gratifications with a kind of desperate energy - as if they're trying to fill the emptiness inside.
I’ll offer one more example of finding meaning even in suffering that will probably resonate strongly with most people. The search for love can be a painful experience, filled with cruelty and doubt. But it also carries a deep lesson that can help add meaning to that suffering. It's difficult, because it’s love’s way of teaching us how valuable it is.
I’ve only just finished reading Dr Frankl’s book, so I am still digesting some of its lessons. Overall, however, I think his theories are very interesting and useful.
|Don't get sucked in by empty promises |
|I was at a work function last night where we were all getting treated to free drinks and food. There was a very attractive girl there who was enjoying the attention of many of the men.|
|Take the initiative in establishing new relationships |
|The world is filled with people who are dissatisfied with the state of their relationships. They think they haven't got enough others in their lives, or else they believe the others they have aren't up to scratch. Whether it's friendships that are missing or something more, a lack of satisfactory relationships is a common complaint.|
|Don't hate your body too much, it's the most amazing machine on the planet |
|We live in a society fixated on machines and gadgets. The media obsesses over iPods, BMWs, laptops and phones. And we consumers gobble up every titbit of information available on those topics.|
|Science is the closest thing to verifiable truth that we have |
|Wait! If you're the type of person who reads the word "science" in a title then moves quickly on, then this is an article you need to read. I promise it won't be boring.|
|Become excellent at creating new opportunities |
|The scouts have an excellent motto. It says simply “Be prepared”. Whether or not you have ever been a scout or a guide, this is a good attitude to have towards life.|
|Incompetent people tend to overestimate their skill level |
|Something interesting happens to me whenever I try to learn a new skill. I tend to underestimate just how hard it's going to be. For some reason, part of me thinks I'm going to be naturally talented at it, even though I have no evidence for that being the case.|
|We're all just lost at sea |
|Picture this. You wake up to find yourself aboard a huge old sailing boat. You can't remember who you are, or where you were before. You can't even remember what your name is.|
|Perfect contentment leads to stagnation |
|Have a look at how so many of us live our lives. We get up in the morning, go out all day and work, work, work. Whether in a rich country or a poor one, a good neighbourhood or bad, you can be sure that most of the people around you will be working most of the time.|
|Find the right balance between improving your situation and enjoying it |
|There's a funny scene in the film "Thank you for smoking" where the main character, a public relations shill for the cigarette industry, is asked how he can do such an unethical job. "Everyone's got to pay the mortgage", he replies.|
|The world's best investment |
|Many people don't think of it consciously, but much of our lives are spent deciding how to invest our resources. Families decide whether to move into a bigger house, or save their money and stay in the current one. Young women decide which man they should bet their reproductive potential on. Workers ponder what they should do with their holidays. And so on.|
New articles are being added all the time, so make sure you bookmark Paul's Tips and come back.