Adrian Drew
Sep 8, 2018 · 3 min read

Be it chronic depression, SAD, or an unexpected episode of misery, there’s one factor that underpins all forms of unhappiness.

According to Viktor Frankl, an ex-prisoner at one of Germany’s several concentration camps in the mid-1900s, each and every moment of sorrow is rooted in a lack of purpose.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl details his experiences as a Jewish slave.

Upon arrival, he and all other prisoners were seized of their belongings. They were stripped naked, their heads shaved and their identities reduced to a mere number tattooed onto their forearms.

They retained nothing more than their bodies, which became withered with starvation and ravaged by beatings before long.

Did Frankl spiral downwards into despondency? No.

His wife and children killed, home destroyed and the bundles of paper that contained his entire life’s work burned to a crisp, Frankl remained determined to make it out of that camp alive.

Why? Because his life still had meaning.

Throughout his time in camp, Frankl salvaged scraps of paper and writing tools and saught to rebuild the manuscript that was destroyed when he arrived.

And, even in the face of such an obstacle as a Nazi German concentration camp, that unwavering purpose motivated him to stay alive.

The Reason for all Suffering

When we look at any form of suffering, we can see that its cause is very often a lack of purpose.

Be it a grievance, redundancy or simply teenage angst, it quickly becomes apparent that, where meaning wanes, sorrow looms close by.

Not long after I graduated from high school, I found myself troubled by a crippling bout of depression.

Accepted into my first choices of universities across the UK, I was miserable.

Securing a place to study psychology at some of the top institutions in England would have been fantastic, had I actually wanted to become a psychologist.

The issue? I didn’t. I had no idea what I wanted. Alas, I was miserable.

Without the guiding compass of purpose in my life, I was completely lost; directionless; unhappy.

You see, when our day-to-day lives don’t have meaning, a long-term purpose or goal, we start to ask ourselves — what’s the point in me being here?

And when we don’t have a clear answer, life doesn’t feel worth living at all.

Purpose, whether in the form of a romantic partner or college degree, gets us out of bed each day; it motivates us to become better; it gives us a reason to push forward when life get difficult.

Without it, we’re lost.

Finding Meaning

In order to maintain our own happiness and sanity, we have to find meaning in our day-to-day existence.

‘What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.’ — Viktor Frankl

Purpose lights our future like a candle in a dark corridor. Examples of purpose include:

  • Fighting for an important cause
  • Writing a book
  • Receiving a nobel prize
  • Finding love

And, though these are worthy examples, not all sources of purpose need be great and noble tasks. Day-to-day goals work just the same, like:

  • Getting in shape
  • Achieving good grades at school
  • Overcoming personal difficulties (eg. low self-esteem)
  • Learning a new skill

Purpose takes many different forms, but in all cases, it’s a crucial ingredient of wellbeing and contentment.

In Frankl’s case, it was his medical manuscript. In mine, it’s writing.

The Buddhist seeks enlightenment and the theist salvation. Dictators are driven by power. Pacifists advocate peace.

Be they wrong or right, each of these motivations involves investing our energy into a cause, large or small, that aligns with our heart.

And that, simply put, is the key to happiness.

The Takeaway

The next time you find yourself feeling unhappy, consider your purpose. Is it faltering? How can you reinvigorate it?

Seek direction; seek purpose; regain your balance. Find what motivates you and immerse yourself fully within it.

That is the solution to suffering.

For more content like this, follow Mind Cafe on Medium.

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Adrian Drew

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Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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