Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Search For Meaning.

"I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones. And I thought that if the point were demonstrated in a situation as extreme as that in a concentration camp, my book might gain a hearing. I therefore felt responsible for writing down what I had gone through, for I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair."

---Viktor Frankl

Even in the degradation and abject misery of a concentration camp, Frankl was able to exercise the most important freedom of all - the freedom to determine one's own attitude and spiritual well-being. No sadistic Nazi SS guard was able to take that away from him or control the inner-life of Frankl's soul. One of the ways he found the strength to fight to stay alive and not lose hope was to think of his wife. Frankl clearly saw that it was those who had nothing to live for who died quickest in the concentration camp.

"He who has a why for life can put up with any how."
Frederick Nietzsche

Viktor Frankl is the author of Man’s Search For Meaning

Depression and suicide plague humanity, with the loss of some 850,000 lives every year (1) and it is estimated that by 2020 depression will rank second in DALYs (2). That is, life and life productivity lost due to depression. It purportedly affects 121 million people worldwide. It is my belief that a difficult life, as Viktor Frankl’s, can enhance our appreciation and purpose in life. Or it can send us “around the bend”. Frankl also developed the concept of Logotherapy :

The notion of Logotherapy was created with the Greek word logos ("meaning"). Frankl’s concept is based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning in life. The following list of tenets represents the basic principles of logotherapy:
Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.

We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

The human spirit is referred to in several of the assumptions of logotherapy, but it should be noted that the use of the term spirit is not "spiritual" or "religious". In Frankl's view, the spirit is the will of the human being. The emphasis, therefore, is on the search for meaning, which is not necessarily the search for God or any other supernatural being.[2] Frankl also noted the barriers to humanity's quest for meaning in life. He warns against "...affluence, hedonism, [and] materialism..." in the search for meaning.[3]

Indeed, we’ve all heard the cliché, “money doesn’t bring happiness”; neither does fame; neither does selfishness and greed. Fortunately I am not affected by depression, at least not the chronic type, though like everyone else I have my “empty” moments, and even though I live alone thankfully they’re rare. I have had a difficult life in many ways, and for many years I literally worked until I dropped from exhaustion. But perhaps the most difficult part was ridding myself of personal illusions, and delusions, one of them being a long held fervent religious belief, which once discarded made me much more sane. These can be like mental prisons, or at best only offer false hope. I suppose that was my personal search for meaning. Today I tell my friends that if you want to find happiness in life, or at least meaning and purpose, I recommend seven basic rules to follow:

1) Always work. Always be gainfully employed in some way.
2) Do not compare yourself to others.
3) Do not hold grudges and regrets. Look to the future, because that’s where you’ll be.
4) Have at least one or two passions in life – mine is writing, and thinking, and on the more mundane level – occasional beer (I don’t drink when I’m in the working week).
5) Have a sense of humour. Laughter is really the best medicine.
6) Exercise your freedom to choose how you will react to life, not to how circumstances or misfortunes may try to control you.
7) Avoid cantankerous and negative people, and especially judgemental people. They will only drag you down to their level.

I love to live in thought, in mind, in spirit, and I have some wonderful memories which I will forever cherish, and I like nothing better than an uplifting discussion with intelligent people. I would like to have personally known Dr. Viktor Emil Frankl. Such people are, in and of themselves, an inspiration to all. You'd never think that this man was once a prisoner of the Nazis.

(1)World Health Organisation
(2) DALYs = Disability Adjusted Life Years
The sum of years of potential life lost due to premature
mortality and the years of productive life lost due to disability.


1. Man's Search For Meaning

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