“Why do we live?” would be the question that appeals to our purpose in life, and perhaps no one like Dr. Viktor Frankl in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” has given such lucid answers to such questions. This book, whose reading marked a before and after in the existential analysis of human and psychotherapy, has been recognized by millions of readers after its first edition in 1946.
Viktor Frankl was a a doctor in Medicine. He was born on March 26th, 1905 in Vienna and survived the experience of four Nazi camps, including Auschwitz, from 1942 to 1945. His parents, his wife and his family were killed in the Holocaust. Because of these terrible experiences and their own inner alchemy, Dr. Frankl developed a revolutionary approach to psychotherapy known as logotherapy or Meaning-based therapy. His more than thirty books have been translated into 26 languages and he was awarded 29 honoris causa doctorates by several universities in the world. Frankl taught at the University of Vienna until the age of 85 regularly and died on September 3rd, 1997.
The author, who lived through the destruction of their environment and the extermination of their loved ones, who suffered from hunger, cold, the worst imaginable brutality and many times he came close to death, concluded that, despite all this, life was worth living. His work is revolutionary just because it is immersed in the essence of human suffering and taken to limit the psychological mechanisms that lead us to express the best and worst of our species. Despite the circumstances that forged his work, his contribution is characterized by an extremely positive message about our ability to overcome adversity and build a meaningful life not only for ourselves but for others.
Against the pessimistic speech, indolence, laziness or cynical and resigned look, Viktor Frankl’s message and experience are needed more than ever, more than sixty years after that terrible situation for humanity. Ultimately, Frankl repeated throughout his work, “Living means taking responsibility to find the correct answer to the problems that it holds and accomplish the tasks that life continuously assigns to each individual.” And for that one of his greatest contributions is born of a statement so simple, so essential, surprising: the last of human freedoms, the essential freedom, one that no one can take away from us, is to choose our attitude whatever the circumstances around us, however difficult, painful, or complex are such circumstances. And indeed, the experiences of life in that field show that the man has such a choice.
The examples given by Dr. Frankl in his book are plentiful and test that we can overcome from apathy to anger. In that sense, the author notes that those who were in concentration camps found some men who went from hut to hut comforting others, giving them the last piece of bread they had left. May be few in number, but they offered sufficient evidence that the man can take away all but the last free to determine their own path. It is this freedom that we can not be taken away from what makes life meaningful and purposeful. Consequently, if there is such freedom even before pain and death, a man is not fully conditioned and determined but is he who decides whether to surrender to situations or to deal with them. In other words, a man is ultimately self-determining. The human being does not merely exist but always decides what his existence is like and what will be the next minute, argues Dr. Frankl.
As suffering is an aspect of life that can not be eradicated, as death can not be put aside, for without them life is not complete, not real, it would be a fiction. Many times it is just an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives human beings the opportunity to grow beyond themselves. But then, what sustains us in adversity, or to the difficulty of overcoming anything seemingly impossible?, one wonders. The answer provided by Dr. Frankl is strong: in essence, the salvation of man is in love and through love. In one of his most moving pieces of “Man’s Search for Meaning”, he writes: “I understood how the man who has nothing left in this world, can still find happiness -if only momentarily- provided by his loved one. When a man is in a state of utter desolation, unable to express themselves through positive action, when his only goal is simply to endure sufferings correctly -with dignity- that man may at last be in the loving contemplation of the image of the loved one.” And this contemplation not only becomes the oxygen of mind that can bring some happiness to a terrible environment, but actually it is the hope that enables us to live.
Then the love of a loved one or even loving a job (love and creativity, in short) are the foundations on which build hope and meaning in life, they are some beautiful responses to “Why do we live?”. Therefore, “He who has a reason why to live, will almost always find a how”, Dr. Frankl would say. But to the extent of that effect a man must be able to transcend the narrow limits of a self-centered existence and believe that one can make an important contribution to life, if not now, in the future, he argued. This sensation is necessary if a person wants to be pleased with themselves and what they are doing. So perhaps every good purpose must be accompanied by a reflection on the positive impact on the good life of others, because only then can we speak of meaning, fulfillment and accomplishment.