“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.” -Victor E. Frankl
How often do you wish you could constantly look on the bright side of things and find happiness wherever you look?
Probably a lot, right?
As humans, we love to be happy, yet at the same time we are constantly tuned into the negative around us so it can be hard to keep a smile on.
I know it’s hard to believe that simply being optimistic has the power to change your life.
But if we can break away from our cycles of cynicism and doubt and look at all of the good around us for even a moment, we’ll find that we have more than enough inspiration and creativity to focus on living a better, more positive life.
So how do we do that?
Before we can change our mindsets to embrace optimism, we need to train our minds to focus and revel in all of the good that’s around us. Only then can we begin to make room in our lives for a positive growth mindset which will then create a whole new world of opportunities and magic for us to discover.
What Being an Optimist Really Means
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl recounts his harrowing tale of being forced into a concentration camp during his time living in Nazi-occupied Europe.
As Frankl recounts in his book, the conditions he and his fellow prisoners found themselves in were miserable beyond belief.
Some days Frankl would be forced to walk miles in dirt and rocks — sometimes even in conditions of extreme cold — in order to get to their designated work station for the day. Even if they had their own pair of shoes, the camp officers forced them to wear whatever they could find, which were usually broken ones that barely fit their feet or had gaping holes at the bottom of their soles.
After a time, many of the men in the camps began to lose the physical sensations in their feet through frostbite or other means. And even when they did get to rest for the night, the workers were forced to sleep on broken mattresses, huddled next to each other for whatever warmth they could find.
For many, the physical pain quickly became psychological and life became unbearable. But despite it all, Frankl wouldn’t quit.
Yet how could he hold up such a brave face in such terrible times?
The Case for a Tragic Optimism
Many times throughout the book, Frankl says he was close to joining the ones who didn’t make it. But even through all the trials he faced, he says one thing allowed him to survive through all the horrors he was entwined in.
That one thing was hope, or what he called the case for a tragic optimism.
To him, that was the only thing that got him through it all. Without it, he would’ve been lost long ago.
Luckily, many of us do not live in conditions like the one Frankl presents his readers with. Even so, we can use his strategies to propel us forward when it seems too hard to go on.
As Frankl suggests, the strategy of being a tragic optimist is not choosing to shun adversity or even avoid it, but to embrace it the best you can when it comes. The only way to happiness is by being an optimist even when — and especially when — tragedy has struck you and your life couldn’t possibly be any worse than it already is.
If you want more out of your life, then you need to make room for better things by appreciating what you already have even if it doesn’t seem like much. In this way, focusing on happiness begets more happiness, just as giving in to misery will only breed more misery.
What Happens When We Give Into Doubt
All of us experience periods of tragedy like Frankl did. Hopefully they’re not as bad as living in a concentration camp, but the difficulties we face in life are a given.
Through these adversities, we begin to carefully access our situations and constantly question our capabilities when they arise.
We ask things like, “Are we really able to pull ourselves out of this situation?” or “Can we really do this?” (the answer is yes).
Through questions like these, we wonder whether it’s better to give up now to save ourselves the pain of losing later; yet by starting down this line of questioning, we can easily succumb to missing out on the necessary growing pains of adversity we must experience to achieve the life we want to live.
These feelings of doubt are easy to give into, but we can’t feed those fears no matter what.
Because the second we fully give into doubt, we lose something of ourselves. And through that loss of belief, we lose the thread of hope that spins the wheels of our own happiness.
And once hope is gone, it’s hard to get back.
The Meaning of Our Lives Is Not Inherent
It’s clear Frankl had skills that came in handy during his imprisonment. After all, he was a psychiatrist before entering the camp, so he was given access to people and places he wouldn’t otherwise have had.
While describing his relationship with his officers, Frankl notes how the men were driven to the viewpoints they had, stating, “They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Some officers chose brutality and to revel in their authority over others. Others chose milder ways and kept to themselves, while others helped their prisoners live less miserable lives.
Just like the officers Frankl had, his fellow prisoners could choose their attitudes at all times, because the freedom to think is something you can never truly take from anyone.
Even though he’d experienced so much pain from the war and the cruel officers around him, Frankl chose to be brave: he chose to be an optimist and to see the good in everything no matter what, and through that belief he spread wisdom to others and lived a life worth living.
The truth is we’re all suffering in some way. But if we stay miserable and let our environment rule us, there’s no way we can protect ourselves from the stumbling blocks that life will put in our way.
The Choice to be Happy is Yours
No matter what bad things happen to you, only you have the choice of how you’re going to deal with the problems in your life now — and nobody else.
The choices you make in this moment now will determine how you find your own meaning. They can come from fear and from seeking out the darkness all around us, or they can come from love and from seeking out the light from all the good in our lives.
These are the choices you have to make for good or worse, and only you can make them. Because adversity will eventually come into your life. And it has a bad habit of peeking up when you least expect it.
But if you can train your mind to focus on the good and be grateful for what you have now, you will open yourself up to live an abundant life of positive growth and change that will transform your life.
What you choose to do when adversity strikes will change your life forever.
You can choose to bemoan or run away from it, or you can choose to embrace it and overcome it with all you’ve got.
The choice is yours, and it always will be.
So how will you choose to be happy about this gift of life in the moments and years to come?
Blake is a writer, creative, and coffee lover. He’s on a mission to help writers create actionable plans to make their dream lives a reality. If you’re looking for an extra push in your writing, you can download a FREE copy of “The Bulletproof Writer’s Handbook” to conquer the blank page today.