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Viktor Frankl on Meaning and Direction

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Give me a why…

…a meaning, and I’ll show you the way. There is one thing that I know for sure about hiking and being surrounded by wilderness; without a plan or purpose for being amongst nature, it’s easy to lose your way. Having a clear path and direction is needed to save time and stay safe even in spontaneity.

The analogy of hiking is somewhat what I gather from Viktor Frankl’s position that without direction, we are lost. Frankl, most famous for surviving the Holocaust, wrote the book Man’s Search For Meaning in 1945.

“What is to give light must endure burning.”

In his book, Frankl detailed the life in concentration camps that included the brutality, hardship of the conditions, hopelessness, and despair shared among the prisoners.

His adjustment for the conditions that threatened his life led to his belief in meaning for your life. He proposed that when we lack a clear purpose for our lives, we lack substance and fulfillment.

What would that look like? It would be impulsive purchases, reckless pleasures, regrets, and stagnation.

His school of thought, logotherapy, suggests through the meaning, we have direction, purpose, and a force to persevere through the many adversities that come with everyday life.

The following are select quotes from Viktor Frankl that may help give you insight and find meaning for your life.

Viktor Frankl Quotes

1. “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

2. “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”

3. “Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn.”

4. “Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you will miss it. Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue. 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 another person than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that success will follow you precisely in the long run because you had forgotten to think about it.”

5. “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

6. “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.”

“When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.”

7. “To be sure, man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would help one survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life. There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost anyhow.”

8. “When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

9. “No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether he might not have done the same in a similar situation.”

10. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

11. “Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being. We should not be hesitant about challenging a man with a possible meaning for him to fulfill. It is only thus that we evoke his will to meaning from its state of latency. 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. He needs not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

12. “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

14. “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and fulfill the tasks it constantly sets for each individual.”

15. “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change instantly.”

16. “The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who actively attacks the problems of life is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. Then, he can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest.”

17. “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life, he can only respond by being responsible.”

18. “The attempt to develop a sense of humor and see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living.”

19. “In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering when it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

20. “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.'”

Take-Home

Quotes offer a significant advantage for us as mantras when we are feeling defeated, low, or helpless. Mantras don’t have the power to change your situation, but they can undoubtedly impact your mindset.

I encourage you to pick from the list or find another quote to focus on and add one or two to your notebook, journal, or phone.


Thank you for tuning in. Please share with someone who needs this!

Write: Poets and Writers Get Promoted

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