“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How”
These were famous words mentioned by Dr. Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankl and is family were captured and tortured by the Nazi guards as they were transported to a concentration camp during World War II. He stood by helplessly as the Nazi’s killed his friends and siblings. The guards locked him in a camp and forced him to serve the regime as a slave, not knowing if he would live or die from one day to the next. During his time in Auschwitz, he saw many of his fellow Eastern European Jew’s die from not only lack of food or medicine, but from a lack of hope or something to live for. Those that gave up on life were inevitably the first to die. Frankl, on the other hand, kept his hope alive by dreaming at the prospect of seeing his wife again and by the thought of being able to lecture one day about the psychological lessons learned from his experience. Despite the horrific conditions, Dr. Frankl left the concentration camp with the concept of “Logotherapy” finding that the greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.
Frankl’s classic work inspires us all to find significance in the human will to find meaning, in spite of the worst adversity that one may face. In fact, this forms the basis of Logotherapy. It is said that man’s search for meaning in life is what serves as the primary motivational force for living as a human being. This can apply to anyone’s current position in life, regardless if they are facing challenging circumstances or even have their current life in order. Us as humans have an amazing ability to be free mentally. Our conscience allows us to change our perception in any environment and we can freely choose our goals and purposes as we wish. In Frankl’s therapy, patients are not given a blanket meaning to life, rather they are asked to use their own free will to perceive and realize the meaning of each moment in each situation. And it is those that live lives progressing towards a meaning are more likely to survive and be happier.
So what are the factors we are to look at in practicing Logotherapy? There are three principles that Frankl describes in detail in order for one to find meaning in their lives:
The first is Creative Values – This is something of creational value that you put out into the world. This can be creating a work or doing a deed. You can do something simple as create a flower bed to attend to, or building a business to help the community and make a profit. Any action is acceptable as long as it brings you a level of achievement or accomplishment.
The second is Experiential Values – Sanguine experiences, such as a goodness, truth and beauty, are ways we can experience the world through a positive lens. This also includes beauty around us such as nature and culture and by experiencing another person in their very uniqueness – by loving them. I believe that love can actually be the most important experience here. Frankl said this by “No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”
The third segment of Logotherapy is Attitudinal values – The attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering. Frankl states that everything can be taken away from a person but the freedom to choose one’s attitude. While we should not suffer unnecessarily to find meaning but we can find meaning even when suffering is inevitable. While it is possible that creative and experiential values can still lead to a feeling of emptiness, it is one’s positive attitude towards life’s challenges and opportunities that enable a person to endure suffering and disappointment, as well as enhance enjoyment and satisfaction. A negative attitude will only intensify pain and may even lead to depression and physical illness.
Being incarcerated or even worse in a concentration camp, like Frankl was in, it is easy for one to lose hope and meaning in their lives. Especially when there is no end in sight. However one thing that history has taught us is that heroes are conceived out of times of despair. Us as humans have the ability to set aside the conditions he or she may be in and has the ability to stand up to them. Frankl stated that man is self-determining. Meaning “man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.” A conscious individual has the capacity to rise above a situation that may feel hopeless to grow beyond them. We are capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and changing ourselves for the better if necessary, regardless of outside conditions. Apply the three principles of logotherapy that I have outlined to your life and think about all of us who have gone through difficult times but managed to emerge out a stronger, sharper, and more optimistic individual.