Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Existentialism: to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.
“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” — Nietzsche
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.
“Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker.” (That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.) — Nietzsche
I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, “homeostasis,” i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. 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.
“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”
The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.
According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways:
- By creating a work or doing a deed.
2. By experiencing something or encountering someone.
3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes — within the limits of endowment and environment — he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.
A human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy, last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation.
Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself.
If, on the other hand, one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still choose his attitude.
“George, you must realize that the world is a joke. There is no justice, everything is random. Only when you realize this will you understand how silly it is to take yourself seriously. There is no grand purpose in the universe. It just is. There’s no particular meaning in what decision you make today about how to act.”
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