In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl reflected on his time living in four different concentration camps during World War II. He said there are three ways we find meaning in our lives:
- Through our actions. Frankl noted we often find meaning through our actions, or the things we do. For example, Frankl was passionate about helping and psychotherapy. He wanted to write a book on logotherapy, which described his theory and techniques for how to help people experience healing from emotional problems. When he was put into his first concentration camp, the guards forced him to throw away all his possessions, including an initial copy of his book manuscript. But during his time in the concentration camps, Frankl never stopped thinking about his book, and writing his book in his mind. These actions helped give his life meaning.
- Through our connections. In addition to what we do, Frankl said we also find meaning through our connections, or who we love. These connections can involve our relationships with a spouse, family, or friends. It can also involve our relationship with God or the sacred. When Frankl was in the concentration camp, his memories of his wife, as well as his connection to God, helped him experience a sense of meaning.
- Through our suffering. Sometimes people find themselves in situations in which they are unable to engage in much meaningful action. Or they might find themselves separated from the ones they love. This was part of Frankl’s experience in the concentration camp, as he found himself unable to practice psychiatry and separated from his loved ones. In these situations, Frankl argued that humans can still find meaning in the midst of suffering. During his time in the concentration camps, Frankl observed that some people would give up (and soon die), whereas others bore their suffering with courage and grace. How a person lives their life in the midst of suffering can instill a sense of meaning.
How do you find meaning in life? What do you think about Frankl’s model for how people can find meaning through actions, connections, and suffering? How can you work to increase your meaningful actions, meaningful connections, and courage in the face of suffering?