Victor Frankl about the meaning of life and facing difficult times in our life.

We all suffer difficult times and challenging moments oin our life. When change gets overwhelming and I feel stuck in life I generally turn to someone  wiser than my self for wisdom and direction.

Frankl writes in Man’s Search for Meaning :

” We can discover this meaning of life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.  The first, by way of achievement or accomplishment, is quite obvious.  The second and third need further elaboration.

The Meaning of Love

Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.  No one can become fully aware of the essence of another human being unless he loves him.  by his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features of the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized.  Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities.  By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true…

The third way of finding a meaning in life is by suffering.

The Meaning of Suffering

We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.  For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.  When we are no longer able to change a situation–just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer–we are challenged to change ourselves…

But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning.  I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering–provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable.  If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political…

There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one’s work or enjoy one’s life; but what can never be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering.  In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end.  In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering…

[In Auschwitz] the question that beset me was, “Has all this suffering, all this dying around us, a meaning?  For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends on such a happenstance–as whether one escapes or not–ultimately would not be worth living at all.”

What I find comforting in Frankl’s perspective is that he’s not denying the difficulty and  rage that spring from suffering and tragedy.  He’s not “making the best of things.”  And he’s not blithely suggesting that “everything happens for a reason”or just let go and move-on  (which I find a particularly unhelpful expression of being stuck or hurting from loss.

What Frankl is doing is encouraging us to acknowledge our grief, stuckness and even unproductive rage, and also to see our suffering or upsetness as an experience in which it is possible to find meaning.  The nature of that meaning will be different for all of us, of course, even in response to the same situation or circumstance..  There’s no one-size-fits-all meaning-of-life.  Discovering your meaning will take effort, perseverance and courage. Remember your life is your own to create so start today to make the changes  that will make your life more meaningful.