Viktor Frankl On Suffering and Living a Meaningful Life

On Suffering in Life and Understanding on how to craft Meaning in Life is worth our attention and reflection: Frankl recognizes suffering as an essential piece not only of existence but an important part of creating a more meaningful life:

Quote: ” If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete… 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.”   Viktor Frankl  

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not. … Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.

In working as a psychiatrist to the inmates, Frankl found that the single most important factor in creating the kind of “inner strength” vs. “inner death” that allowed men to survive or give-up on life was teaching them to hold in the mind’s grip some future goal. He cites Nietzsche’s, who wrote that “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,” and argues against generalization when:

He writes :

Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, “I have nothing to expect from life any more.” What sort of answer can one give to that?

What was really needed to survive was a fundamental change in attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to 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 in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way for all people. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by constructive action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation or reflection and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept (reality) fate, to bear his cross. Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand.

Reflection on Suffering, Happiness and Meaning for Living 

Many of us buy into the myths of happiness because we think that failure, sadness and suffering are the reasons we are not happier. We falsely believe that, if we’re not happy now, we’ll be happy “if and when” that perfect person comes into our lives or perfect boss and job magically appears, when we hit the Lottery, or when our suffering ends and on and on with these fantasies. When these things to not come to fruition or they come and we still aren’t as happy as we expected, we feel there must be something wrong with us or we must be the only ones to feel this way. Others have disaster fantasies about getting a life threading disease, finding the wrong partner or no partner at all, losing our money or our jobs and houses, or getting old. Really this type of thinking itself can lead to more suffering and unhappiness. Not only do our false expectations turn life circumstances into full-blown drama points, but, worse, they also steer us to make poor decisions and impair our psychological health. If we are convinced, for example, that a certain kind of marriage, job, and money would make us happy (and it doesn’t), then misunderstanding the power of “hedonic adaptation” may compel us to jettison perfectly good marriages and jobs, harm our relationships with our children, and become a miser with our money. If we are positive that divorce or old age would make us miserable forever, then not recognizing the power of grit and resilience and the rewards of being single and aging may lead us to remain in a bad marriage, settle for a poor romantic match, or undergo unnecessary suffering. The good news is that by practicing more effective strategies and experimenting with new approaches for coping with pain and suffering, adversity at work or with a partner we can grow and flourish– we can transform our crisis and suffering points into making us stronger and challenge us to face these difficulties and find new solutions for living a more meaningful, and fulfilling life.

Part I– Viktor Frankl–ON Freedom to Choose One’s Attitude in any Circumstance

Frankl writes: Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although fear and suffering is always present. After discussing the common psychological patterns that unfold in inmates, Frankl is careful to challenge the assumption that human beings are invariably shaped by their circumstances…

He goes on to say: But what about human liberty? Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behavior and reaction to any given surroundings? … Most important, do the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?

We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle. The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. … Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

His principle argument on freedom of choice is summed-up by this one statement: “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”.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr.Frankl places this idea of “ freedom to choose one’s attitude in any circumstance” as the core element of our journey through life. For him the notion of everyday choices is at the center of the human experience.

So Frankl believes that every day, every hour, offers the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determines whether you would or would not submit to  demons, fears or self doubts and outside influences which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom. Inner freedom and self-direction determine whether or not you will become the slave of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form that others want you to be or a self-directed and autonomous person choosing daily to craft your own and unique journey based on the notion of “I can” rather than I can’t. Every time we choose to confront our fears, challenge our mental maps and struggle to discover the truth we strike a note for freedom and dignity for all. Frankl recognizes suffering as an essential piece not only of existence but of the meaningful life:

Self-Coaching Challenge:

  1. How in your life are you taking the responsibility to find the right answer to your tasks, suffering and problems confronting you daily?
  2. What constructive action are you willing to take shape a more meaningful and purposeful life beyond your present circumstances?
  3. Given your circumstances are you still able to choose your attitude?  If  your answer is no–in what concrete ways can you change this belief and self-defeating attitude?

Introducing the Self-Coaching Plus One Model for Self-Development

Plus 1 Self-Coaching for Self-Development

“Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to life for.” Viktor Frankl

Those individuals who are truly growing and happy in their lives are on a quest to discover their purpose for living.  Our self-coaching, person-centered development model, supports the journey for finding and creating a more fulfilling purpose in life. Fulfilling our purpose for being is a natural condition of living and is critical for living a more satisfying life by finding our strengths and gifts to make a positive contribution and difference in this complex and vexing world.

The Plus-One “process with structure” approach is unique in the world of coaching. We have investigated and researched the “best-in-class” ways to create a positive learning approach for personal change. At the core of our philosophy are proven methods to motivate and inspire our client’s to discover  and change their thinking and behavior through perseverance, patience and practice. We encourage clients to uncover and focus on their responsibility to make their own choices in life. The self-coaching activities are designed to emphasize the individual’s inherent right to choose and support their own development focused on their purpose, worth and dignity. 

Unlike traditional one-one coaching the plus-one process  is based on self-direction using the process of discovery and client choice. The individual is his own coach and counselor. The “process with structure” framework support the individual through guided exercises on self-awareness, strengths identification, goal setting and self-development challenges. It encourages individuals to choose what changes they want to make in order to fulfill their needs and reach their full potential. The “process with structure” activities are designed to uncover information and support reflective thinking to establish Smart-Steps and Plus 1 practices to bring about the personal changes and new behavior desired.

Once you understand the Smart-Step Process you are on the road to significant personal change and getting unstuck.  Specific change goals replace other people’s expectations and help you focus on what is really your purpose and important priorities in your life. Being and living in the moment is critical to developing confidence. It means learning to trust and believe in your ability to accept the challenge. Developing this change posture means that you must accept more vulnerability and take more risk. Trust is directly related to your ability to be open and for you to be experienced as authentic by others. Specific approaches are designed in the “process with structure” approach to challenge your present mental maps and behaviors so as to lead you to do what you set out to do to live a more purposeful and fulfilling life.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

 

Daily Quote: Self-Coaching Learning Acceptance and Facing Reality

Daily Quotes : Thomas Aquinas instructs that the purpose of a fulfilling and meaningful life is to “carry each other’s burdens.” And as Walter Cronkite use to say in signing off his nightly newscast “And that’s the way it is”.

Reflection: One of these quotes takes us away from being self-centered and directs us toward a worthy purpose or mission in life; the other keeps us grounded in the idea that things happen and we need to accept them.  I see acceptance as the ability to see something the way it is and saying   I need to step-up and do something about it. A significant part of denying and not accepting reality is the inability to deal with the frustration , fear and pain of what is happening to you. For example, one of tenants of a strong and lasting friendship is the commitment each person makes to help the other endure suffering or pain.  Possible outcomes of this type of support is to help your friend or spouse to come out the other side with personal learning, to regain balance or understand how to let go peacefully or deal with the situation head-on.  At other times, the growth that comes through pain is only experienced as we share our thinking and feelings of pain with someone else.  Dr. Viktor Frankl, the German psychiatrist and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, who spent a few years in Nazi concentration camps called this ability human triumph.  “Human triumph” is the ability to turn suffering and pain into acceptance by changing our thinking and attitude toward unchangeable fate or events.  This ability puts us in control of even seemingly uncontrollable situations.  It provides internal peace and an inner compass so that we are not tossed about by external waves of change. When reality slaps us in the face and shakes us up and confronts our notion of what reality should be. Reality usually wins. Many have trouble accepting this proposition and use denial and avoidance of this truth to hold off the inevitable, that is accepting their situation.

Self-Coaching Challenge: The way through this dilemma is to ask yourself, What am I not accepting as the truth about this situation?  Your answer to this question is the first step to solving this problem and constructive action.

It provides us with what Rotter calls inner “locus of control”.  When we discipline ourselves in the pursuit of a higher purpose, a new self appears and emerges.  This action is empowering because it releases energy and power we hold to shape our own circumstances.  What is the right thing to do in this situation?

Willingness to sacrifice self in the pursuit of a greater good.  It is important to remember that assisting others who need a hand up or support is more empowering and fulfilling for the helper.