Is This Really All There Is? (I mean, really really?)

“Are you kidding me? This is it?” Have you ever wondered why you get out of bed to take on another day? I know I have. Just think about it for a moment. We motivate ourselves to “rise and shine,” but why?

Now, one might say, “To go to work.” To which I’d again ask, “Why?” “So I can eat, keep a roof over my head, pay the bills, and take that special vacation every year.” To which I’d say, “Well that’s great, but what other reason(s) can you come up with?”

At then there might be silence.

The fact of the matter is, I believe most people do what they do…because that’s what they do. But for many (including moi), that justification for living doesn’t cut it. And if we can’t come up with an acceptable perspective on life, existence becomes somewhat of a dicey proposition.

In the midst of a horribly boring and meaningless “life” several years ago I recalled a book from a grad school recommended reading list: Man’s Search For Meaning, by the great 20th Century psychiatrist, theorist, and professor, Viktor E. Frankl. If you haven’t read this book, somehow get your hands on it. Based in his imprisonment at Auschwitz during World War II, Frankl shares his incredibly amazing take on life’s purpose.

Citing numerous philosophers and writers throughout, this quotation from 19th Century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wonderfully summarizes Frankl’s position…

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

As he goes on to discuss the meaning of life, Frankl notes it differs from person to person. And this difference business is a day to day and hour to hour phenomenon. But Frankl is quick to point out it isn’t so much the meaning of life that matters. No, he believes it’s all about the meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. That said, Frankl proposes that though the meaning of life is always changing, it never ceases to exist.

Frankl believes the meaning of life can be found in three different ways…

  1. Creating a work or doing a deed
  2. Experiencing something or encountering someone: He’s referring to things that involve goodness, truth, and beauty within the context of culture and nature. And he suggests this can also be accomplished by experiencing another human being in his or her “very uniqueness – by loving him (her).” Wow, huh?
  3. In the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering: Frankl writes, “In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end. In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering.”

He goes on to declare that the search for meaning was absolutely the primary motivation in his life, not a “secondary rationalization of instinctual drives.” I love the way he puts that.

This is one great read, written by a marvelous human being. It spoke so much truth to me – and still does. In the midst of what Frankl calls “The Existential Vacuum,” characterized by chronic emptiness and boredom, I found a spark of hope that grew into a flame. If you’re in such a jam, I wish the same for you.

In closing, how ‘bout this statement from Viktor E. Frankl, referring to the very bottom-line for Auschwitz prisoners…

“…it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”

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