The Meaning of Life: That's Some Heavy Sh*t!
Finding beauty in the storm. Just like those of us who love a good thunderstorm, making meaning out of the trials and tribulations we encounter in life can be a cathartic, beautiful process. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor, understood the importance of this and took it to another level.
Mr. Frankl was an existentialist and created "Logotherapy," a form of existential analysis that emphasizes finding meaning in every moment of our lives, especially the really difficult moments. I would consider him an expert on the subject, having a survived a concentration camp where people were essentially stripped of their humanity and made to suffer in unimaginable ways. He used this experience as the basis for his book, Man's Search for Meaning.
I held on to several of my favorite quotes from that book for later contemplation and to share with clients who are working to find meaning in their struggles.
"The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment."
"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked."
"What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him."
"It does not really matter what we expect from life but what life expects from us."
"Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man and from moment to moment."
"Being human always points, and is sometimes directed, to something or someone other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more he actualizes himself."
"Ultimate meaning necessarily exceeds and surpasses the finite intellectual capacities of man.What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms."
"To draw an analogy: a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative."
"'He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.'" –(Nietzsche)