Finding meaning in life leads us to deeper sense of purpose. Meaning and purpose lead us to feel that we have a reason to live and life is worth living. Unfortunately, our current circumstances prevent us from engaging in so many of the activities we enjoy and find meaningful. I wanted to bring something new to the table, and I thought Viktor Frankl’s ideas might offer us a new way of looking at our experience. Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, talks about our inherent drive to find life meaningful.
Frankl was imprisoned in four Nazi different concentration camps during WWII, including Auschwitz. While he was imprisoned, he reflected deeply on freedom and his control over his thoughts and attitude. He dwelled on the meaning in life and finding a purpose, a reason to live.
*Please note, I am Not comparing lockdown with life in a Nazi concentration camp. I am saying we can apply his discoveries to our confinement.*
In a certain sense, Frankl was able to retain a small measure of personal freedom because he was able to choose his thoughts and attitudes. Like the song, Die Gedanken sind frei, (Thoughts Are Free) his thoughts set his mind free. Rejecting the words on the entrance to Auschwitz, “Arbeit Macht Frie,” (work makes free people), Frankl found freedom through his mind. Despite starving and freezing in a concentration camp, he zeroed in on his control over his attitude.
THERE IS LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
Frankl says that we can change our attitude towards life by making meaning of our experiences. In modern terms, “making meaning” involves reflecting on “what’s important to you and why.” “Purpose” is a reason to live. It can be uncovered by asking, what do you want to do with your life?
Meaningful experience comes in many forms. By creating or doing, through people or a profound experience or adopting a positive mindset in the face of suffering, people find meaning. In essence, Frankl suggests that you find what is important to you and spend time thinking about and doing that thing; that is what gives you your reason to live. (However, trauma can interfere with the will to live.)
Amazingly, Frankl rose above the Nazi-fostered competition between prisoners; he secretly shared food, kindness and humor with others. He also vividly imagined conversations with his wife and longed to be reunited with her. In one anecdote, Frankl describes being driven into the forest with other prisoners. He expected to be killed, but he made jokes with the guards. Somehow, they returned to camp instead. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to joke in the face of death? It’s mind boggling, but Frankl was unusual. He thought deeply, developed a profound understanding of his internal workings and strong control over himself. Not everyone can make logotherapy work for them; but it worked for him. He lived through hell on earth and survived to share his approach to life.
What gave his life meaning was his love for his wife, his belief in humanity and his thoughts about human psychology, notably, the ability to control one’s attitude. His purpose, his reason to survive, was to be reunited with his wife.
Frankl managed to look for the good even in the worst possible situation.
HOW TO FIND MEANING IN LIFE
Stop and reflect for a moment. What do you like, what is important to you? That’s it, that’s what’s meaningful to you.
What is your important thing? Do you like making art, baking, building things or helping people? Perhaps you find meaning through love, faith, or because you have been inspired.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
On the other hand, you might find meaning and inspiration in people’s ideas and actions, such as Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild about her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Margaret Mead’s work as an anthropologist. Jane Goodall’s work with gorillas and her defense of nature. Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle. Robyn Davidson’s Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 miles of Australian Outback. #MeToo, Occupy Wall Street. Rosa Parks’s protest against discrimination, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words “I have a dream” and other rousing oratory. Brené Brown’s research on shame, vulnerability and authenticity. American author Maya Angelou’s literature and speeches. Malala Yousafzai for standing up for the right to education for girls. Nadia Murad from the Kurdish Region of Iraq working against war crimes and sexual violence.
Here are a couple of articles that might inspire you to connect with your important thing:
WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE, YOUR REASON TO LIVE?
Is there something that makes you want to wake up to another day, something you take joy in? Your loved ones? Your work? Where do you feel like you belong? Do you place a priority on something in your life? Did a near death or spiritual experience give your life meaning? Might you find meaning in how you overcome the difficulties of lockdown? Finding your why, the thing that keeps you going, in the face of this unavoidable crisis might be your purpose in life in right now.
For Frankl, love, humanity and psychology were deeply meaningful. He vividly imagined conversations with his wife and their reunion. Sadly, she died in the Holocaust. But Frankl survived and developed logotherapy. His approach to therapy is to invite his patients to reflect on what is most important to them.
MEANING: DO WHAT MATTERS DEEPLY TO YOU
Once you have identified the things that are meaningful to you, Frankl would suggest that you focus intently on those things.
If it’s love, think intensely about the people you love. Imagine spending time with them. In contrast, if travel is important to you, imagine traveling in great detail.
PRUPOSE: DAYDREAM ABOUT YOUR WHY
Use all your senses and immerse yourself in the experience. See yourself there. Physically feel yourself there. Notice all the physical sensations of the experience: the temperature, the atmosphere, the feeling of your skin, your body position, what you’re wearing. Observe the sounds, smells and tastes. Notice the emotions too.
If the things you find meaningful are things you can do at home, wonderful. If not, take the time to imagine doing that thing. Imagine it vividly. Also, spend time researching, study, explore the subject, make plans to do it when you can. One day, lockdown Will come to an end. Eventually, there will be a time when you can resume doing the things that are meaningful to you. Until then, daydream vividly, and do a deep dive into the topic. Marvel about the things you find meaningful.
If you’re interested in learning more about Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning, you can find the book at https://www.amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning-Viktor-Frankl/dp/0807014273/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1587573660&sr=8-1 or read an article at https://www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-victor-frankl-s-logotherapy-4159308
Also, you might like to read Recollections: An Autobiography.
I’m Natasha Walter-Fisk, LMFT, LPC. My specialty is helping women of all ages to manage anxiety and recover from painful experiences and trauma. If you’re not doing well, please get professional help. If you’d like to schedule a free 20-minute consultation, click the scheduling button below or email me at my confidential email, firstname.lastname@example.org. I work online with English speaking clients living in California, Colorado, Europe, Singapore and around the world.
I’d love to hear from you. I invite you to Like, Comment, and Share. Was this blog helpful? What were your takeaways from reading about Frankl’s thoughts on what’s important in life and finding a reason to live?