I’d very much like to share my thoughts with you, about a certain book I read over the summer. It’s become one of my favourites, and I personally think it’s up there on those ‘top books to read before you die’ lists. It’s an autobiography called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, written by the neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.
It changed my outlook on everything.
The book is a ‘timeless formula for survival’, accounting his 3 year experience at Aushwitz and various other concentration camps. I don’t think there is any point in me describing these here. How he does it is so accurately chilling and terrifying, I wouldn’t even come close. However, I wanted to touch base on just a handful of his insights. I found his book to be incredibly eye-opening and very heart breaking. I’ve cried watching movies, but never by reading.
Dr Frankl talks about how to suffer (if unavoidable) in life is a way to experience the meaning of life, and therefore the meaning of your life. It’s meaning is unconditional, ‘paralleled by the unconditional value of every person in this world’, and their responsibility to humanity. Dr Frankl states that it was the simplest things which helped him persevere. Things such as images of loved ones, humour (what he calls the ‘soul’s weapon in the fight for self preservation’) and glimpses of nature such as a sunset, despite knowing that he may not survive.
One of the reasons why Dr Frankl wrote this book was to demonstrate to us that life can hold potential meaning, under any circumstances, even in a concentration camp. You can’t choose the suffering or change your fate. But you can choose your attitude, your personal values, your inner freedom-things nobody can take away from you.
If there is a meaning to life, then there is a meaning to suffering. The suffering should be undertaken as a task. So if you’re going to suffer, do so with courage and dignity.
‘Tears bore witness that a man had the greatest courage. The courage to suffer’.
Other things Dr Frankl talks about include the importance of documenting events, particularly those you’re happy to reflect on with pride and joy. Everybody has the potential to ‘actualise opportunities’ and therefore realise the value of creative work, fulfilling their meaning of life. These actions are never lost, but are stored and treasured. Again, they can never be taken away from you.
The last thing I wanted to quote here is directly taken from the book. One of the many things which altered my outlook on life…
‘Don’t aim at success-the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensure, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s dedication, to a cause greater than oneself’.