For someone who had spent time at Auschwitz he seemed pretty upbeat about life and human nature. So, I had to read his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
I hope this essay lifts up your spirit the way his book did mine when I first read it.
“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”
Shortly after Frankl arrived at the camp, the guards ordered him to strip off his clothes and put on the rags of a deceased prisoner. Later, he asked another captive what happened to the group of people that the wardens had pulled out of the lines. The old-timer pointed to the smoke rising in the sky. “Your friend is up there in Heaven.”
As Frankl adapted to camp life, he observed the psychological breakdown of many of his comrades. He strove to maintain his own sanity despite the harsh environment, the torments from the guards and the irrepressible questions on his mind: “What is the point of this suffering? Will I survive? If I do survive, what will my life be worth?”
Frankl knew when a comrade had lost the will to live because he was no longer prepared to endure the daily trials. When his suffering had lost meaning, he just wanted to get as much pleasure as possible NOW. “Cigarettes could be exchanged for twelve soups, and twelve soups were often a very real respite from starvation…Thus when we saw a comrade smoking his own cigarettes, we knew he had given up faith in his strength to carry on, and once lost, the will to live seldom returned.”
It was amazing to Frankl that he and some of his comrades wanted to survive, in spite of these conditions. He came to believe that those who did had one distinguishing mark: the will to meaning fulfilled.
He made a firm decision not to commit suicide because he was working on a book that he hoped would be a great contribution to the world (nicely anticipated!). He realized that, with that purpose in mind, he was no longer afraid of his suffering. He had acquired a superhuman motivation to endure it. He surmised that “he who has a why to live will bear with almost any how.”
After the war, he continued his research and discovered that happiness, which we sometimes pursue through pleasures or a list of highly-praised achievements, is only a by-product of the will to meaning. In other words, happiness is what happens while you’re minding your business. Your business is to find out why you’re here and what great thing you can do with that time. If you succeed at this – and it will be hard – then happiness may come crawling with its tail between its legs. And, if it is your lot to suffer, then at least you will bear it nobly.
“Success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
So, don’t fret if you don’t get through that list of “10 Things to Get to a Happier You” today. Just do the one thing that your entire being is burning to do.