Author: Thomas Oppong
Think of existential freedom as a basic human right to choose the trajectory of your experiences
As a renowned psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and author of the influential book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl’s experiences and observations have resonated with countless individuals seeking purpose and fulfilment.
Through his unique blend of existential philosophy and therapeutic approaches, Frankl challenges us to explore the depths of human existence, emphasizing the significance of finding meaning even in the face of adversity.
“When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure, says Frankl.
Viktor Frankl’s journey was one of unimaginable hardship and profound self-discovery. As a Holocaust survivor who endured the horrors of concentration camps, he bore witness to the darkest aspects of human nature.
Yet, amidst the bleakness, he emerged with an unwavering belief in the human capacity to find meaning and purpose even in our most difficult experiences.
His most outstanding work, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” outlines his groundbreaking concept of logotherapy, a form of existential analysis that centres on the quest for meaning as the primary motivation in human life.
Frankl posits that in the face of suffering, people can still choose their attitude and response, allowing them to transcend their circumstances and discover more profound significance in their existence.
“Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude,” he said.
His profound perspectives challenge us to confront life’s existential questions and search for purpose in our daily pursuits. He encourages us to tap into our inner resilience, emphasizing personal responsibility’s importance and human agency’s power.
In this short piece of Frankl’s teachings, we will delve into the transformative power of his ideas and how they can guide us towards leading lives of genuine significance and purpose.
1. The search for meaning is not a superficial desire but an existential longing
Humans possess an unparalleled level of self-awareness and consciousness. Unlike other creatures, we can reflect on our existence and contemplate our purpose in the world.
Self-awareness raises a fundamental question: “What is my life’s purpose?” This existential query is inherent to our nature and shapes our thoughts, actions, and decisions throughout our lives.
“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her own life,” says Viktor Frankl.
Frankl argues that we are driven by an inherent need to find purpose and meaning in our lives. And that the search for meaning is not merely a superficial desire for pleasure or dominance but rather a profound longing to understand why we exist and what our unique contribution to the world might be.
The quest for meaning becomes a driving force that guides our actions, shapes our values, and influences our personal development.
Frankl suggests that pursuing pleasure and power may ultimately leave us unfulfilled. Pleasures are often temporary, and pursuing power may lead to isolation and disconnection from others.
In contrast, the quest for meaning transcends individual desires and reaches beyond the self. It involves connecting with something larger than oneself — be it spiritual, moral, or creative.
Finding meaning in challenging circumstances allows us to endure hardship with greater strength and determination.
Embracing this philosophy may lead to a richer and more purposeful life, fostering a sense of interconnectedness with the world and the people around us.
2. Think of existential freedom as a basic human right to choose the trajectory of your experiences
At the core of Frankl’s philosophy is existential freedom — the belief that, regardless of external circumstances, human beings possess an innate freedom to respond to any situation.
While external events may be beyond our control, we can shape our attitudes, thoughts, and behaviours in response to those events.
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation,” writes Frankl.
Frankl also highlights the inherent dignity and autonomy of human beings. Even in the most oppressive or dire situations, people can assert their humanity by taking ownership of their responses and actions.
The dignified stance allows people to transcend victimhood and empowers them to reclaim a sense of agency over their lives.
Frankl’s philosophy underscores that the last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude. In the face of suffering or tragedy, you can choose hope over despair, love over hatred, and resilience over resignation.
Your choice of attitude profoundly shapes how you experience and navigate life’s challenges, fostering a sense of inner strength and empowerment.
Frankl’s statement also introduces the idea of transcendence — the ability to rise above your circumstances and find higher meaning.
Even in the most adverse situations, people can transcend their immediate reality by holding onto values, beliefs, and aspirations that extend beyond the present moment.
3. Happiness is a side effect of transcending self-interest and ego-driven pursuits
“Success, like happiness, is the unexpected side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.” — Viktor E. Frankl
Frankl underscores the significance of transcending self-interest and ego-driven pursuits in this quote. When people dedicate themselves to a cause greater than their own immediate desires, they move beyond the confines of narrow self-centeredness.
Expanding perspective allows them to connect with larger values and purposes, fostering a sense of belonging to something meaningful and impactful.
Commitment to a more significant cause gives you a clear sense of direction and purpose. You become more focused and driven as a meaningful mission guides your actions.
The dedicated effort to serve something beyond yourself can lead to outstanding achievements and success, often surpassing what you originally anticipated.
Frankl’s assertion that success is an unexpected side effect highlights that genuine success often arises when people are not solely focused on achieving it. Instead, success emerges as a byproduct of sincere dedication and pursuing a meaningful purpose.
When you are immersed in the pursuit of something you truly believe in, you channel your best efforts, creativity, and talents, increasing the likelihood of remarkable outcomes.
4. Perspectives shape our experiences
Circumstances alone do not determine our ability to cope. While we cannot always control the external circumstances that life presents, we can choose how we perceive and respond to them.
A meaningful purpose can serve as a lens through which we interpret and navigate life’s challenges, making even the most difficult situations bearable.
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” — Viktor E. Frankl
Frankl’s statement acknowledges the incredible resilience of the human spirit. People have shown throughout history that they can endure immense suffering and still find strength in their search for meaning.
Life can feel empty and unbearable when we lack a sense of purpose or direction. Whether through personal relationships, creative endeavours, or contributions to society, pursuing meaning creates a more profound sense of fulfilment that sustains us even in challenging times.
A clear sense of what we stand for and what gives our lives meaning can help us find purpose and direction even in the face of hardships. It gives us a reason to keep going, even when the path ahead seems challenging or uncertain.
5. The freedom to create your future consciously — create meaningful memories
“Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” — Viktor Frankl
The quote can be interpreted in a few different ways. One interpretation is that it is a call to live each day as if it were your last. It’s a challenge to live a life of purpose. Frankl believed that everyone has a unique purpose in life and that we should strive to fulfill that purpose.
That means being mindful of your choices and ensuring they are aligned with your values. It also means being grateful for the present moment and not taking anything for granted.
Frankl also suggests that we should imagine ourselves living a second time, emphasizing the value of time and the preciousness of each moment.
When we envision a second chance at life, we become more aware of the limited nature of our time and are motivated to make the most of the present.
He is also reminding us that we all make mistakes. Acknowledging our past mistakes and wrongdoings allows us to learn from them and avoid repeating the same errors. It encourages self-awareness and personal growth as we strive to improve ourselves.
Living with the consciousness of having acted wrongly in the past encourages us to make amends, seek forgiveness, and strive to positively impact others. It prompts us to be kinder, compassionate, and considerate in our interactions with those around us.
Finally, the quote echoes the sentiment of “carpe diem” or “seize the day.” It reminds us to live fully in the present rather than dwelling on the past or anxiously waiting for the future. Seizing opportunities and experiences that come Your way to enrich your life and create meaningful memories.
Author: Thomas Oppong
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