There was a time when living was about blowing through another day. Well, it finally caught up with me. And I came to understand that finding a little meaning in life goes a long way.
‘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.’
And I don’t see how anyone peacefully exists without a firm grip on their life’s meaning.
What is the meaning of life?
“What is the meaning of life?” can be a troubling inquiry, especially for someone struggling with a mood or anxiety disorder or burnout – in these days, no less.
For instance, have you ever wondered why you get out of bed to take on another day? Think about it for a moment. I mean, we motivate ourselves to “rise and shine,” but why?
You might say, “To go to work.” To which I’d ask, “Why?” “So I can eat, keep a roof over my head, and pay the bills.” To which I’d reply, “Well that’s great, but what else can you come up with?”
And then, there may be silence.
Fact is, I believe most of us do what we do because, well, that’s what we do. But for many of us, that doesn’t cut it. And if we can’t manage to come up with even a morsel of meaning in life, “living” becomes a dicey proposition.
Viktor Frankl’s take
In the midst of a horribly calling it in “life” some 15 years ago, I turned to a book I’d blown off: Man’s Search For Meaning, by the great 20th century psychiatrist, theorist, and professor, Viktor Frankl.
If you haven’t read it, I’d encourage you to do so.
Based upon his imprisonment at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, Frankl shares his amazing take on life’s purpose and meaning.
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 that day-to-day, hour-to-hour, it differs – from person-to-person.
See, he believed it isn’t so much the meaning of life that matters. Rather, it’s 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.
How do we find it?
So how do we find this often elusive meaning? Frankl directs us to focus our energy on the following…
- Create a work or do a deed.
- Experience something or encounter 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).”
- Gain insight into our attitude 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.”
Frankl 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 expressed that.
This is an important read, written by a special human being. Man’s Search for Meaning spoke so much truth to me – and still does.
If I’m in the midst of what Frankl calls “The Existential Vacuum,” characterized by chronic emptiness and boredom, his insight and perspective bring sustaining hope.
Continue your quest for answers
Consider his observation as he reflected upon his Auschwitz imprisonment…
…it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.
“What is the meaning of life?” If you’re living with a mood or anxiety disorder or flattened by burnout, I’m thinking you frequently inquire. And that especially applies these days, as tension and darkness suck us dry.
I encourage you to continue posing the question, and continue your quest for answers.
Only then will you peacefully exist.
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