Which is a more important pursuit in life: meaning or happiness?
Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was transported to a Nazi concentration camp in September 1942. When the camp was liberated three years later, he was his family’s sole survivor. Dr. Frankl used his experiences to write his bestselling book Man’s Search for Meaning in 1946, which he completed in only nine days. Frankl, whom the Nazis used to treat suicidal prisoners in the camps, concluded that the difference between those who lived and died came down to one thing: meaning.
People who find a meaningful purpose to their suffering are far more resilient than those who fail to do so.
“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,” Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning. Two suicidal inmates that Frankl encountered in the concentration camps profoundly shaped his observations and conclusions. One patient had a child in a foreign country. The second patient was a scientist who had unfinished work and writing to complete. Both anticipated something beyond their present circumstance waiting for them to finish and fulfill.
Frankl wrote, “This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.'”