After going through intense suffering in the Nazi camps, he concluded that even in the most horrible of circumstances, life has a potential meaning and therefore suffering is also meaningful. He gave an example of an elderly gentleman who was in depression because he lost his wife and experienced the pain terribly. Frankl asked him a simple question: what would have happened if she had lived and he had died instead. The man said she would have suffered terribly. Then Frankl helped him see how he had spared her that pain by living himself and therefore now his separation from his wife had a meaning.
How do we discover a meaning in our own unexciting lives?
Action, Attitude, and Experience as a way to discover meaning
Victor Frankl presents three ways: Action, Experience, and Attitude. Activities help us connect to a purpose. An experience of something, like a walk in the forest or the stillness of the morning chants in a temple or the serene sunrise, could also connect one to his or her real being. And thirdly the ‘last of human freedoms’- our attitude in any given situation is ours, and that can help us discover fantastic meaning even in the most trying circumstances of life.
During my travels I met a man who as a teenager saw his father commit suicide, his uncle and brother died in a terrible accident and his mother was in acute depression all her life. Interestingly this man in his mid-thirties is a successful teacher in a college where hundreds of students adore him and even his former students write letters thanking him for the positivity he exudes. I could see he naturally offers hope and joy to anyone he meets.
He discovered his meaning through a combination of prayer, gratitude, humility and acceptance. Suffering didn’t break him; his freedom to choose his attitude helped him be an agent of hope, rather than sulk and go the way life had treated him. He refused to succumb to the externals of his life. He connected to himself, his existence, purpose and contribution are uniquely his, and no person or situation can change that.To be continued…