The Search For Meaning According To Viktor Frankl

The search for meaning according to Viktor Frankl

Many times we work so hard to change circumstances that we forget how important it is to enjoy the present, no matter what. One of the major exponents of this idea was the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who advocated  the  search for meaning as a fundamental element for human existence.

Starting from the story of his experiences in a concentration camp, this author explains in his book  Man in search of meaning: A psychologist in the concentration camps and other unpublished writings the experience that led him to theorize logotherapy, an approach which proposes the search for meaning as the primary motivation of the human being. Viktor Frankl experienced firsthand the meaning of a bare existence.

How could he recognize that life was worth living? A man who had lost everything, who had seen everything worth living for destroyed, who suffered from hunger, cold, endless brutality and who many times found himself almost on the verge of dying. However,  Frankl managed to make sense of his own existence.

According to this psychiatrist, the search for the meaning of life is the essence of existence. In the realization of this sense, man aspires to be with another human being to form one and love him.

When the sense of existence is frustrated, the desire for power or pleasure is the main source of motivation. In this way,  the pursuit of happiness becomes an end in itself and, therefore, frustration arises.

Viktor Frankl with smiling glasses

The search for meaning: how can we transform our existence?

Happiness is obtained as a consequence of having a goal and not for its direct research.  The door to happiness opens outwards and those who try to tear it down are closed.

Optimism is a key element in Frankl’s conception. In his philosophy, life appears as an opportunity to which it is necessary to respond ;  it is necessary to look for the best option to preserve it and, therefore, to keep the promise of survival. In this sense, once the why is defined, the emphasis shifts to the how.

Love is the highest goal to which a human being can aspire.  This faith allows you to compensate for all the efforts, decisions or actions that someone has made in life. Happiness is obtained when meaning is found, and this is possible if man answers the questions that life asks him and not vice versa.

In this commitment, values ​​play a fundamental role. Particularly important are those of attitude, creation and experience, having particular prominence in the latter case the love experience.

Values ​​make possible an inner journey from which faith in the future arises and the search for resources of love and meaning in one’s life story.

The relationship between inner strength (values, faith, love, meaning) and future goal is the link that makes up the individual  and allows him to recognize himself as a unique and unrepeatable being.

Woman's hands against sunlight to symbolize spirituality

What is the inner attitude?

The inner attitude towards the circumstances is the result of a personal choice .  It is the freedom to become the person you want to be. Going beyond material or physical limits is a human possibility, an experience of heroism.

To develop the best possible inner attitude and start the search for meaning,  Frankl talks about a number of fundamental teachings.  The nine most important are:

  • Choose to have hope. We can’t always change circumstances, but we can always choose our attitude in any situation. When we can no longer change a situation, we are tested to change ourselves.
  • Know your why. Ask yourself: Why am I living? Every day we should get up and ask ourselves why we get up and why we are here. -Who has a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how’.
  • Learn to cry. Tears are not a sign of weakness, they show a soul that is not afraid to break. “There is no need to be ashamed of tears. Tears testify that a man has great courage, the courage to suffer ”.
  • Not adjusting to be part of the flock. The world goes the other way around. Sometimes doing what everyone else is doing is crazy. “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”
  • Living with meaning. We give meaning to life by answering the questions it asks us. Life puts a challenge before each person and the person can only respond with his own action. What someone expects from their existence does not matter; what matters is what it expects of someone.
  • Fill your days with acts of goodness. Kindness has a goal. The selfless acts we have the opportunity to do every day fill our life with meaning.
  • See beyond yourself. We find true meaning when we overcome our own limits and needs. The more a person forgets about himself, to devote himself to a cause or another person, the more human he will be and the more he will grow.
  • Feeling the pain of others. Suffering is painful, however irrelevant the problem may seem to others. Be empathetic with the pain of others, even if it is not a tragedy in the global perspective of life.
  • We can change even when life is difficult. We can create a life that is meaningful and full of meaning, love, and purpose.

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