Having just finished Viktor Frankl’s A Man’s Search For Meaning, I’m on an existential meaning-of-life high right now!
Frankl’s notion of Logotherapy states that the primary motivational force in humans is to find meaning in life.
The basic principles are:
- Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most horrific ones.
- Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
- We have the freedom to find meaning in what we do, or in what we experience, when faced with any situation, including unavoidable suffering.
He states we can find meaning in three different ways:
- By creating a work or doing a deed
- By experiencing something or encountering someone
- By the attitude we choose to take in any circumstance
Two other principles in the book particularly struck me – not striving for happiness and the multitude of meaning.
Happiness is not something one should strive for; rather, if one seeks and finds meaning, happiness will naturally appear. So, if you are feeling down and try to mentally will yourself to be happy, it will be a challenge. But if you instead find meaning by, say, creating something, your spirits will inevitably take a turn for the better.
There is no one “meaning of life.” Meaning varies from person to person, from day to day, and from moment to moment. What is important to you may not be to another. What was meaningful to you this morning may not be meaningful to you tomorrow, or even a minute later. Asking someone, “What is the meaning of life?” is equivalent to asking a Chess Grandmaster, “What is the best chess move in the world?” There isn’t an answer to that question; it all depends on the situation. This is an incredibly uplifting view on finding meaning in your life, because there is no “right answer,” which means there is no wrong answer. The answer is right in front of you in this very moment, and the only person that can know it is you. It’s also a useful mental framework when serving and helping others, to know whatever gives you meaning will not be the same for them.
This book helped me realize that if I’m ever feeling stuck, overwhelmed, unfocused, anxious, or depressed, I can ask myself the following questions:
- Am I creating something right now?
- Am I doing a deed right now?
- Am I having an interesting experience right now?
- Am I encountering another person and having an interaction with them right now?
- Is there a better attitude I can choose to take in this moment?
If I answer ‘no’ to the first four questions, then maybe I should stop doing whatever it is I’m doing and start doing one of those four activities because it will be sure to be a meaningful endeavor.
If I answer ‘yes’ to the last question, then the next step, while not always easy, is simple – improve your ‘tude, dude!
Have you read Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning? What other lessons and takeaways did you glean from the book? How have you been applying them in your life? What other similar texts do you recommend? Let me know in the Comments!