Highly regarded as one of Viktor Frankl’s greatest works, “A Man’s Search For Meaning” highlights Dr. Frankl’s perseverance and survival through the Auschwitz concentration camp. His insights, both harrowing and enchanting, can be readily applied as a sort of spiritual compass for the modern-day man or woman.
With more distracting information than ever available today, most people quietly yearn for wisdom. Rather than fabricate a guidance system that may but probably won’t be applicable to your unique situation, I’ve leveraged one of the finest minds in recent historical memory to forge a more universal guidance system.
Here are 5 of my favorite and most applicable excerpts from one of Dr. Frankl’s most classic writings:
1. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”
This is where emotional agility resides. Always, even if only for a split-second, we’re given a choice in our response after an event unfolds. Things become increasingly complicated when we either forget we have a choice or don’t believe we have one (even though, in essence, you’re choosing not to believe it).
Taking five full seconds to process events prior to responding — especially the ones we’re taken aback by — shifts the balance of power back in our favor. This space between is our mental fortress — the command center for life-altering actions to be triggered. Make sure you treat it as such.
2. “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.”
Some of the hardest, yet most freeing advice I’ve ever received is the statement “It’s not about you.” There are moments in life when we do the right thing and fill with spiritual joy. We don’t think about who may have been watching, if we’ll get credit, or how it may come back around. We just do it.
Those moments when we get outside of ourselves and stand for a greater purpose deliver the onset of lasting fulfillment. The times where you light up not because of the recognition you’ve received, but because you committed an act of true nobility are the one’s when you leave your mark on the world in a positive manner. The more you look to be a moon instead of the sun, the happier you will be along the way.
3. “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”
You’ve heard it before: “Life has no meaning except for the meaning we give it.” While this understanding does give off a grim outlook, it’s actually quite the contrary. This grants us the freedom to assign whatever we see fit. When we realized a meaning isn’t necessarily fixed, we can sift through our options until we land on what’s most empowering.
In the book, Frankl recounts a story of a boy dying an early death. He shares how the boy once saw a situation unfold where he revered a terminally ill person’s courage and dignity in handling ultimate demise. Instead of cursing the heavens upon his own diagnosis, the boy stated fate was granting him a similar opportunity.
Luckily for most of us, our everyday experiences aren’t life or death. This is the case, however, until it’s not. The fragility and beauty of life are collapsed. It’s essential we maximize our time and minimize our suffering to make the most of it. Don’t cling to the first thing that shows up when a tough situation presents itself. Scan your optional meanings and make a wise, empowering decision.
4. “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
The majority of suffering occurs today when the blueprint of someone’s life doesn’t match reality. This gap between expectation and actuality is where pain resides. We can usually do a few things to shift the occurrence of reality, but much of it is outside our locus of control. To continue closing the gap, we must change the hard expectations we have for our lives.
Immediately after, feelings of resignation may show up, like we’re compromising what we deserve. However, the lasting change can be found in our values and what we place at highest importance. For example, many people want things like love and passion in their lives, but only if it’s packaged a certain way. Perhaps other desire success, but it must be distinct type of success. Reevaluating what we want the most versus what we want right now can be a prudent “saving grace” for making the most out of difficult situations.
5. “For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”
As Don Miguel Ruiz asserts in “The Four Agreements,” always doing your best is critical to life working for you. Who gets the pick of the litter in terms of fame and fortune is damn-near a crapshoot, but there will be far less spoils for any of us to garner unless each of us does our best. This is where a certain degree of faith is required to continue making sacrifices for the sake of your contribution to the world, even if no one is watching.
The silver lining for those of us reading this article that we get to choose. Engaging in activities we legitimately enjoy puts us in a better state, which increases the likelihood we will be kind and supportive of others as we come in contact with them.
Life is hard enough for each individual. When left to our own devices, our minds often wander into darkness – sometimes unlikely to return. It is with this in mind, we do our best. We continue getting up, helping others, and doing as much of what we love as time permits. We may not shake the world this way, but we can certainly move it.