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Viktor Frankl on Man’s Search for Meaning

August 4, 2016 | by Debbie Gutfreund

Nine crucial lessons.

For so much of our lives, we define ourselves by what we do or what we have. In the month of Av, we take the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av and we look at our lives through a different lens. We mourn not only our Temple which was destroyed on the Ninth of Av but also the loss of meaning and clarity that followed.

We forget what our purpose is as a nation. We forget what is meaningful and significant in our lives. We forget who we are when we take away the titles and activities and possessions that keep us so distracted from searching for meaning in our lives.

In his awe-inspiring book about his experiences in a concentration camp, Man's Search for Meaning, the psychologist Viktor Frankl teaches us crucial lessons in the search for meaning in our lives. Here are nine for the Nine Days leading up to the 9th of Av.

  1. Choose hope. We cannot always change our circumstances but we always have a choice about our attitude in any given situation. As Viktor Frankl writes, "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves."*

  2. Know your why. Ask yourself: What am I living for? Every single day, we should ask ourselves why we are getting up and why we are here at all "Those who have a 'why' can bear with almost any 'how'."

  3. Learn how to cry. Tears are not a sign of weakness; they emanate from a soul that is not afraid to break: "But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest courage, the courage to suffer."

  4. Don't just be part of the herd. The world is upside down; sometimes doing what everyone else is doing is what is insane. "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal."

  5. Live meaningfully. We create meaning by answering the questions life asks from us. "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. It did not really matter what we expected of life, but rather what life expected of us."

  6. Fill your day doing acts of kindness. There is purpose in kindness; there is meaning in the hundreds of small acts of giving that we have the opportunity to grasp each day. "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one's own way."

  7. Move beyond yourself. We find true meaning when we transcend our own needs and limits. "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."

  8. Feel the pain of others. Suffering hurts no matter how irrelevant or ordinary it may seem to others. Be attuned to others' grief even if doesn't seem like a tragedy in the overall scheme of life. "Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore, the 'size' of human suffering is absolutely relative."

  9. We can change even when life is hard. We can create meaningful lives full of depth and love and purpose. "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 at any instant."

*All quotes in this article are from Viktor Frankl’s Man's Search for Meaning

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