During this time of uncertainty and hardship, Viktor E. Frankl’s inspiring call to live a life of meaning is especially powerful.
Life usually doesn’t go as expected or planned — and it sometimes takes terrible turns. Many of us face failure, horror, heartbreak and great loss, often because of forces outside our control.
How should we react? How can we overcome? How might we even survive?
Few examinations of human resilience in the face of tremendous suffering are delivered with the insight and expertise of Frankl’s 1946 global bestseller, Man’s Search for Meaning. The late Dr. Frankl, an Austrian Jew and professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School until his death in 1997, spent three years during World War II as a prisoner at Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps. While working as a slave laborer under the Nazi regime, he lost his parents, his brother and his pregnant wife.
All the while, the young doctor, who had studied depression and suicide prevention before his imprisonment and agony, continually focused on survival and asked, “Why do some people survive and others die? What gives people the will to live?”
Frankl’s answers, based on his observations and interactions with fellow Holocaust survivors, are a challenge to live a fuller life — which is not a quest for pleasure or power, but instead a pursuit for meaning. Three potential sources of meaning, Frankl maintained, are found in loving others, doing work of significance and in mustering courage during times of difficulty.
“We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread,” Frankl wrote. “They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that 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.”
During this time of so much uncertainty and hardship, Frankl’s inspiring work and call to live a life of meaning is more powerful than ever.