In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Viktor Frankl, a neurologist and psychiatrist, who was forced to worked and stayed in a Nazi concentration camp talked about his experience in the concentration camp and how he discovered what the meaning of life is. The book has two parts, with the first part talking about his suffering in the concentration camp and the second part talking about his reflections from his sufferings that lead to his suggestion about what the meaning of life is. To be honest, while I was reading the book, I felt that the book was too dark for my taste. I didn’t feel I was learning anything new from this book until he hit me like thunder by declaring what he believed are the sources of meaning for life. I will simply start this piece of notes with his answer to what the meaning of life is, followed by some other lessons from the book.
According to Frankl, there are three sources from which you can find your meaning of life. I honestly haven’t heard a better answer than his and I feel that his answer is very close to the truth, when I look at and reflect on situations of my own and people around me.
Meaning of Life – Source #1: Thru Creating or Doing Something
Have you ever experienced wanting to work on creating something or doing something so bad that, for a moment, you forgot that you have to sleep or eat, or you rather did your work than watching your favorite TV show? When you are doing things that you like so much and you get that deep sense of fulfillment in your heart, that’s your meaning of life.
Meaning of Life – Source #2: Thru Experience
Why do so many people feel so happy when they travel to other countries? Besides feeling relaxed, they can also see and know new things. Same for learning a new skill like speaking a new language, learning how to write better, getting better in a certain sport. These are experience that may not have anything to do with your work or career but the happiness from these experience can provide you with the meaning of life.
Meaning of Life – Source #3: Thru Suffering
It is silly to think that you can live your life without any sort of suffering. But with suffering, comes learning and growing and that also gives you the meaning of life.
Respect that Everyone has a Different Meaning of Life
This is probably not an idea that comes straight out of the book, but rather something that I have been able to understand after reflecting on the three sources for meaning of life mentioned above. For example, your meaning of life may primarily come from your creation of art pieces while your spouse may find happiness more often from traveling to other countries. I can feel that being able to recognize this idea has made me a more compassionate person.
Suffering is Unavoidable so We Should Learn or Improve Ourselves from It
I don’t care whether you are the luckiest person in the world or someone who has to suffer in the concentration camp like Dr. Frankl, suffering is part of life. Success is not guaranteed, while suffering is. We don’t want to be the passive and negative person who just let the suffering take his or her goal and soul away. Instead, if we can learn how to learn from suffering, whether that means learning a new skill or improving your ability to better control your emotion, your good days will probably come sooner and the good days may even turn into great days. If you are already in your good days, remember to be humble and be aware that your bad days can come anytime. That’s just life and there is another to complain about.
You Can Even Find Happiness from Simple Things like Looking at the Nature
There is a part in the book where Dr. Frankl described how seeing the sky or the tree in the morning has given him a deep sense of happiness while he was seriously suffering in the concentration camp. That reminds me to be mindful and let the current moment touches me. Even though you may have to work on a job that you hate five minutes later, no one can take away from you the joy of looking at the sunrise at this exact moment.
Hope Keeps You Alive
In the book, there was an incident about how the people in the concentration camp were supposed to be released on a certain date but the releasing was then suddenly canceled. A number of people died soon after they heard the news of the canceling of the release, losing the last bit of hope they have left. Although in a more typical situation, we won’t actually die physically after we don’t have any hope or any meaning to live, we can certainly be dead mentally, making us live our lives without souls, like zombies.
Having Your Tribe Around You Can Help You When You Suffer
I am not too sure whether this is a point that is made by Dr. Frankl in the book, but this is certainly something that I can feel from his description of his experience in the concentration camp. We human are social animals. No matter how much of an introvert you are, you need to communicate with other people. That may be able to help you stay more emotional stable especially when you are suffering. A tribe doesn’t necessarily be a large group of people, it can be just one person who is willing to listen to you supportively like your spouse, your father, or your sibling.
I think the most precious gem from this book is the three sources for the meaning of life: thru work, thru experience, and thru suffering. If you haven’t find your meaning of life yet, don’t rush. Just keep searching, both consciously and patiently. When you find it, use that as your north star to guide yourself to live a more fulfilled life.