“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Many times I reflect on life and the things I have accomplished, the people I have influenced, the Love I have shared. I often ask myself, has my presence in this world been more favorable to it than if I were absent?
In other words, am I living a meaningful life? Finding meaning in our lives changes the whole game, fine-tunes our perspective, and improves our appreciation of life. Plus, it is also a key factor in achieving happiness.
I have been reflecting on this subject after reading “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl (by the way, I would have chosen a gender-neutral title). He released his book in 1959 and it was strongly influenced by the years he spent imprisoned at four different concentration camps during World War II. The lessons in it remain very valuable today.
The most important point is that we can all find meaning in our lives regardless of the circumstances we face. External factors may take away all your possessions, but you are never truly left without anything as long as you can exercise your freedom to decide how you will respond to such conditions. Material things can always be restored.
Viktor Frankl’s book is in a way about survival, but survival as a result of the attitude we have towards life. From his experiences at the camp he realized that we do have a choice of action; that any prisoner, even in the worst conditions, can decide what shall become of him.
And that’s the great power we have! We must learn to make our lives meaningful constantly.
So what can we do to focus and find meaning? Viktor Frankl shares three different ways we can discover the meaning in life:
The first has to do with finding meaning in the work we do and in any endeavor we participate that goes beyond benefiting ourselves. How our actions add value in others is a palpable way to feel accomplished.
Secondly, we can also find meaning by experiencing beauty and by experiencing and sharing love. There is beauty in nature expressed in many ways. But also in art, in music, in poetry, in paintings… And then there is Love.
In searching for meaning, Love is the most essential part, the strongest force, the ultimate and the highest goal to which human beings can aspire.
Only Love can make us fully aware of the essential traits and potentialities of the person we Love, and vice versa. With Love we can enable those potentialities to become real and make our lives more meaningful.
The third has to do with the attitude we take when dealing with unavoidable suffering. If we cannot amend a situation (like an incurable disease) we can change how we choose to react and find meaning in this suffering.
Our past experiences also play a role in giving our lives meaning. Whether we have experienced pleasure or pain, we can learn from those experiences to improve our paths going forward.
No power on earth can take away our experiences and all we have done, and especially those moments that were blissful and full of joy: the witnessing of the miracle of life through the birth of your child, the first sight of a new exotic destination, the vivid memory of a magical kiss.
Our time alive in this world is very short, but our existence is in no way meaningless. There are many ways to transcend and reasons to be grateful, to feel alive, to do good, to Love, to help make the world a better place, to find meaning.
As Viktor Frankl cautions, “many people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning.”
We are never too late in our search for meaning. We have the freedom to change and improve our attitude towards life at any instant.
Frankl also reminds us, “we are capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing ourselves for the better if necessary.”
We have the power to decide what we want our existence to be and the meaning we want to give our lives. It’s 100% up to us.