"He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How." - Nietzsche
This month the Self-Love Book Club read Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, which was chosen by my good friend Eric.
This was a much different book than those we've read already, which were explicitly focused on spirituality and self-improvement.
While Frankl touches on these subjects, the book is a powerful memoir of his experience surviving internment in a Nazi concentration camp and an explication of the branch of psychotherapy he practices, logotherapy.
Throughout the book, Frankl comes back to this quote from Nietzsche again and again. It sums up the underlying principle of the text, which is all human life is meaningful. There is meaning in suffering but when we perceive our lives as meaningless, they deteriorate. This can cause sickness and mental disturbances, or in extreme circumstances, even death. But by orienting ourselves towards the meaning in our lives we're able to overcome even the most appalling of circumstances.
"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."
Man's Search for Meaning was named one of the most influential books of all time. And I can understand why. I often read on my lunch break and during the week that I was reading this book, I often found myself in tears over the horrors he was describing. But woven throughout the narrative is a clear message. We always have a choice in how we take up our circumstances.
This is even more explicitly clear in the second half of the book, where he goes on to detail the principles of logotheraphy and the techniques he used with patients to help them overcome their neuroses. Essentially, it all comes down to choice to recognize the unique meaning of our lives. Whether you view this meaning through secular or spiritual terms seems inconsequential. You don't have to believe in destiny or necessarily even a higher power, but to recognize your life as meaningful, even in the face of suffering.
He gives the example of prisoners who found meaning in the thought of one day being reunited with our loved ones or in the spiritual growth offered by the experience. Meaning orients us towards the future. It gives us something to live for.
I found Frankl's words so rich with wisdom and it left me with a lot to think about. About what we choose to find meaningful. How we choose to interpret the circumstances we face. The things we choose to think about and place value on.
If you've read it as well, I'd love to know what you thought.