"Man's search for meaning" in suffering. What logotherapy teaches us

Recently I've read a famous book written by Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl called "Man's search for meaning", and I would like to share some of the insights that I gained from the book here on my blog.


I have a choice

The concept of choosing our reaction to stimulus or trigger isn't new to me. I first read about it in the book "7 habits of highly effective people", by Steven Covey, about 10 years ago or so, and it has literally transformed my life. Prior to that I used to just mindlessly react to my circumstances without even questioning myself. However, that reactive state of being caused me a lot of mental distress, so I felt that I needed to change something. And that "something" was my personal reaction to life events.

You see, your reactions depend on many factors, including what you've learnt from your childhood. We mostly learn from what we observe around us aka reactions, actions, and attitudes of people around us, but it seems like that there is much more to it. For instance, twins often have different personality although they were born at the same time and grew up in the same environment. But overall, it doesn't really matter what reactions you start your journey with, what matters the most is what you choose to do with them

"Helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph," - my favorite quote from the book "Man's search for meaning". What does it mean? How can you rise above yourself? Well, "simply" by changing your mindset. The reason I say "simply" in quotes is because it's easier said than done. The answer is known, and it is quite simple, but to actually change one’s mindset isn't easy at all. If you've ever tried, you know what I'm talking about. 

What is logotherapy?

Victor Frankl is a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp that found meaning to life in the most terrible circumstances imaginable. He is a founder of logotherapy, that describes a search for a life meaning as a main source of motivation. In fact, the way we view our hardships is incredibly important for our mental health and in his case survival. 

I want to ask you: how do you see your life today? Is it difficult? Maybe you feel like your life is a nightmare or/and everything goes wrong. Whatever it is, logotherapy teaches us that finding meaning even in our suffering may ultimately help dealing with it.

I often felt in my life that my hardships were a punishment for something I had done in the past. But with time I have come to realize that there was a reason for each of my struggles. Even if that reason was me learning a lesson. I know it sounds too spiritual, but I honestly believe that our circumstances don't define us. We can and should rise above them. Finding a purpose can help with that. 

Seeing a purpose in suffering doesn't put us in the situation we accept that suffering, but it helps us endure inevitable pain and as a result survive through turbulations.

What's the purpose of my life?

Finding meaning in suffering is probably the hardest thing to do though. You don't need to do it right away. You can start small and make an effort to try to find meaning in some of your daily activities. Many people find it hard because when we think about life purpose, it seems like it must be something big, something "serious". However, there is no such thing as "small" purpose. We create it by ourselves, and we assign value to it. So, it can be anything, even if it doesn't necessarily change the world. If it changes your life, if it empowers you and you only, it's one person, and that is enough. Imagine if everyone took responsibility for their own life and found a way to make themselves a bit happier. This world would be so much better!

Victor Frankl's goal was to survive. After he survived Nazi concentration camp, he was able to write a book about it that impacted lives of many people around the world. He said: “Those who have a “why” to live can handle almost any “how”. So, the most important gift you can give yourself is finding your “why”.

Your circumstances do impact your life, but your response depends on you. You can let your hardships break you, or you have a power to let them build you up. The choice is yours.