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.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, the neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl wrote about his experience as a concentration camp inmate during the Second World War.
Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”)-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.
In Nietzsche’s words, ‘He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How’
Frankl observed that many of those who died whilst in concentrations camps, did so because they had lost all hope for the future (they had nothing to live for).
But how to discover the meaning of life?
Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning:
1. By creating a work (or doing a deed)–doing something significant;
2. By experiencing something or encountering someone (caring for another person);
3. By the courageous attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
[bluebox]What matters is not the meaning of life in general but the specific meaning of a person’s life at any given moment.[/bluebox]
Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible
1. The meaning in work (or doing a deed)
Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it
2. The meaning of love
Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.
2. The meaning of suffering
We may find a meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. One must turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.