Anxious? Dr. Frankl suggested you take a different view of things.
- Not having a meaningful life can be dreadful, and one psychologist thought it was the root cause of many neuroses.
- His ideas became Logotherapy, which focuses on the need for a meaningful life and has shown success in many areas.
- Many studies agree that leading a meaningful life has tangible benefits and lacking meaning can lead to problems.
Many people struggle with the question of what the meaning of life their life is. The dread that can accompany meaninglessness is well known, but where to turn when you can’t find purpose often remains obscure.
Then, there is Viktor Frankl, and his school of psychology based around finding the meaning of your life.
Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychologist known for his system of psychotherapy known as Logotherapy. As he explained in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, many of the key ideas were born out of his time in Nazi concentration camps. He observed how his fellow prisoners dealt with the Nazi atrocities; these observations formed the basis for his theories.
Frankl suggested that a «will to meaning,» exists in all of us and impacts our behavior and mental health. Our having it means that what we really want in life is to give a meaning to what we are doing and experiencing. If we fail to do so, we are likely to begin to show symptoms of depression, anxiety, and neurosis. By finding meaning, we can fully function as people and deal with whatever life throws at us.
Logotherapy was designed to help people deal with the problem of finding meaning, and had a robust theoretical framework to help guide it. Frankl assumed that life had inherent value and was worth living, that we have a will to meaning which must be confronted, that we have the freedom to find meaning at every moment, and that people had not only a mind and body but a «spirit» that was our true, unique, essence that also had to be considered.
In sessions, Frankl would engage in dialogue with his patients to help guide them along a path of self-discovery. He also helped people directly face their fears as a way to overcome them and encouraged people to see problems in larger contexts by steering them away from self-absorbed brooding.
The fundamental ideas of the school are evident in a famous excerpt from his book which concerns a distraught widower:
«Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now, how can I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, ‘What would have happened, doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!’ Whereupon I replied, ‘You see, doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering — to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.’ He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.»