Man's Search for Meaning
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.
Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, or a quest for power, but a quest for meaning. The great task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Meaning of life always changes, but that it never ceases to be.
- In work — doing something significant.
- In love — caring for another person.
- In courage — the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.
Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
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 ensue, and it only does so as the:
- Unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself.
- By-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.
✏️ If you are straightforward with what you want in life, in the long run, you will actually get it: I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that, in the long run, success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.
There was neither time nor desire to consider moral or ethical issues. Every man was controlled by one thought only: to keep himself alive for the family waiting for him at home, and to save his friends.
While we were waiting for the shower, our nakedness was brought home to us: we really had nothing now except our bare bodies; all we possessed, literally, was our naked existence. What else remained for us as a material link with our former lives?
Apart from that strange kind of humor, another sensation seized us: curiosity. I have experienced this kind of curiosity before, as a fundamental reaction toward certain strange circumstances.
Yes, a man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how.
Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: the salvation of man is through love and in love.
In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in an honorable way, in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.
Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.
In my mind I took bus rides, unlocked the front door of my apartment, answered my telephone, switched on the electric lights. Our thoughts often centered on such details, and these memories could move one to tears.
It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.
No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.
If the man in the concentration camp did not struggle against this in a last effort to save his self-respect, he lost the feeling of being an individual, a being with a mind, with inner freedom and personal value. He thought of himself then as only a part of an enormous mass of people; his existence descended to the level of animal life. The men were herded, sometimes driven together, then apart, like a flock of sheep without a thought or a will of their own.
In Auschwitz I had laid down a rule for myself which proved to be a good one and which most of my comrades later followed. I generally answered all kinds of questions truthfully. But I was silent about anything that was not expressly asked for.
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.
He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.
Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become.
I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, “homeostasis.”. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.
(some of my patients) lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves; they are caught in that situation which I have called the “existential vacuum.”
No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).
Now we can understand Schopenhauer when he said that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom.
Is it not conceivable that there is still another dimension, a world beyond man’s world; a world in which the question of an ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer?”
The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day.
The person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest.
What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him?
“No, thank you” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”