(15 – 20 minute read)
Hello fellow readers and friends..
Firstly, I’d like to thank veryone who have taken the time to read and like my previous post(s). To someone like me who has just started his or her own blog, this is worthy and kind encouragement, like water to a growing plant. For that, it keeps me going and I just want to say thank you and I sincerely appreciate it. You have no idea how much.
Now, moving on. This post is a guide of sorts on how to find your way in life, whoever you may be. This is in part what I’ve found out over the years, the ideas from books that I have read and my experience helping others at r/depression. This post was inspired by a friend who is a little lost in life. You know who you are. Thank you.
Now, I don’t claim to have found my dream life in any way and I’m still searching. Yet, I realized I’ve come a long way and I feel more fulfilled than I was in the past. Additionally, I’ve taken the chance to say out somethings that are in my mind. All the same, I hope this post helps you on your life’s journey.
a) Guide to Life
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’..”
~ Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
(Originally from Friedrich Nietzsche)
A little context to the content before we start. It was in my second university year and third semester that I was feeling lost. I’ve been lost before, yet I still struggled with being lost in life.
So, one day, I went to Google and type “how to find meaning in life..” or something like that in my absent-mindedness in wanting to find some explanation or answer for my disquiet. It was then, I found Viktor E. Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” and decided to read it. I strongly recommend that you read the book sometime in your life. I think it’s free to download and read somewhere on the net.
Here’s a more detailed article by Psychology Today on Viktor E. Frankl if you’re interested to read. I’ll summarize (based on my understanding) it below the link all the same:
Viktor E. Frankl was a psychologist who survived a Nazi prison camp during WWII. During his time there, he learned that human beings, when stripped bare of everything that was dear to them, whether it was their family, friends, social status, belongings or even their dignity, they had one last freedom remaining. It was the freedom to choose one’s attitude as stated in his quote above.
Here, I’ll break that down into two freedoms. One is the freedom to choose one’s own meaning in life while another one is the freedom to decide and choose one’s own actions. It was these freedoms that determined who lived longer in the concentration camp
i) Freedom to choose one’s own meaning in life
Viktor Frankl later realized that those who had a meaning or reason to live, lived longer, while those who didn’t, died sooner, even if they were physically stronger than those who did live longer. Meanings in life can be anything that a person holds dear to them. It can be family, a special person, friends, religion, adventure, morality, personal principles, aspirations and more. Even silly reasons can sometimes hold sway and give life more meaning than it was intended to.
However, here’s a word of caution on religion. Religion, legends and myth stories from all walks of life from every society in the world from past till present is evident of humanity’s need to ensure that what they do matters and that their lives have meaning or sentimental value. That doesn’t mean they are true. I personally don’t encourage you to follow religion wholeheartedly because most religions aren’t true. That being said, there is so much goodness and philosophy we can learn from religion. In that, I advocate learning from it.
“The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I think Viktor Frankl’s idea is that in the grand scheme of life and the universe, there is no inherent meaning in life. Therefore, as far as we know, humanity is unique in that we create our own meanings in life. This philosophy is called “existentialism“, the idea where humanity creates it’s own meaning in life. This is where “existential crisis” emerged from, whereby we will one day suffer moments of being completely lost and despondent when we realize that our lives might be meaningless and in the grand scheme of things, pointless.
If a droplet of water is but a tiny part of the ocean, then our existence in the world is but a tiny part of a blot of azure in a fresco painting of the universe.That blot is the Earth. That is how insignificant we are on a universal scale of all things.
Yet, I stand in awe towards Carl Sagan, a physician, who also said “We are made from star stuff..”
We are indeed part of something larger than who we are. That is the universe. We are made from the universe itself. We are stardust.
Thus, I have little admiration for religion because it claims it has absolute answers when it barely understands the laws that governs our existence and universe. Those answers are from a bygone age when humanity barely understood anything.
In fact, the universe is billions of years older than even the oldest of religions and human myth stories. How arrogant it is for religious people to think and say they know the answers that even scientists don’t know?
Today, it is time to give ourselves the freedom to think for ourselves and not be shackled by myth. Science, rationality, liberty and humanitarian values are what will create future progress for humanity.
Let’s move on..
ii) Freedom to choose one’s own actions
Here, Viktor Frankl observes that we have complete freedom to choose what actions we may take. This is what some people might call “free will”.. Here, if we were to consider that religion and a personal divine being are creations of the human mind, then humanity truly has free will, contrary to the paradox that religious people say that our path in life is always set as their imaginary gods have planned them and we are in no position to understand it at all.
Thus, humanity is but two sides of a coin, in simple terms.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Viktor Frankl talks about the people at the camp, who were the prisoners and camp guards. The author saw that some prisoners chose to help their fellow inmates. Others chose to be selfish and look out for themselves. They were even others who betrayed his fellow inmates by serving the prison wardens, even becoming prison wardens themselves. They were willing to do anything to escape the misery and suffering of being prisoners. Yet, they were some prisoners who were willing to do anything to help his fellow inmates, even at the expense of their own survival.
Even I had to ask myself this question at the time. How can someone sacrifice some portion of what they need for survival? We may never know the reasons why some people chose to do what they did. Yet, there are good examples in real life that is similar in nature. I remember watching a video about a homeless person who gave away what they needed to others less fortunate than them. Here, they did it because they knew what it was like to have nothing. Meanwhile, people many times richer than them, refuse to share their wealth and happiness with others. Why is that? I speculate that it maybe because we feel entitled to what we earned, thus we feel more possessive of our belongings and fight to protect them (inspite of the idea that we will never take them with us when we pass away).
Although we may never know, the reasons why people do as they really do all the time, what matters is that we have the freedom of choice to choose and act upon the actions we want to do, even though we may never fully get the results we expect from our actions.
That is what makes us truly human and unique. We are free to decide how we want to live our own life. We can choose to be good, kind and just. We can also choose to be bad, unkind, malicious, vile and more. That freedom of choice is up to us.
iii) Relevance to our modern life
“Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.”
~ Victor E. Frankl
Although much of the world is relatively peaceful, most of us still feel lost in life. It’s precisely because we do not have a meaning and reason for our own lives, that we end up feeling lost. Thus, most of us soon fall for superficial meanings that we think will make us feel better about our lives, but they actually make us feel even emptier. We thus need to give ourselves the freedom to decide for ourselves, what truly matters to us.
Besides religion as I mentioned, materialism and hedonism other examples that we fall for. Materialism here simply means our desire to acquire things and items to make us feel better about ourselves. Meanwhile, hedonism is simply our desire for pleasure. Both ideals temporarily satisfy when we get what the items or pleasure we want. After that, the desire soon dies and we feel the urge to acquire more items or pleasure. The worst part is, every time we satisfy ourselves, we need more stimuli to make us feel the same amount of satisfaction. Afterwards, there comes a point where we feel sick of it, thus causing us to feel empty. It’s like eating your favourite ice-cream everyday till you get sick of it. Same principle. The pursuit of happiness actually falls within hedonism. Thus, remember to search for fulfillment rather than happiness.
“Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.”
~ Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Meanwhile, meanings in life are far more fulfilling and help us avoid emptiness in our lives. Thus, Viktor Frankl’s idea will always have a place no matter the era we live in.
So, how do we actually go about finding it? Here are a few questions to help find it out for yourself. It helps if you are really honest about what you want from life. Additionally, it helps that you tell no one about this as by doing so, it defeats your attempts in doing so. It’s a psychological effect that has been researched. I read somewhere a while back and I find it to be very true.
So here they are:
- What do you want from your life?
- What meaning do you want your life to have?
- What do you want do in your life?
- What sort of person do you want to be?
- What life principles do you want to have?
- What sort of friends do you want to have?
- What part of your life truly matters to you?
Ex: Family, children, friends, career, learning, hobbies etc.
- What activities fulfill you?
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”
~ Robert Byrne
One last point before I finish. The actions we choose to act upon can be or may not be influenced by our meaning in life. However, it is not as applicable when applied backwards, whereby our actions we choose to do influences our meanings in life. Lastly, meanings in life can change. So, sometimes, the meanings in life we hold dear at an earlier point in life, may not resonate or matter to us in the later stages of our lives. Thus, it could be good to explore different meanings or return back to meanings you may have left behind, depending on how they matter to you.
To conclude, this wraps up this post. To those who have read the entire post, thank you. As for this blog , I don’t know where it’ll go and I hope to blog as long as I live and make it a proud legacy of sorts to leave behind and remember. This is part of my meaning in life.
Till the next post.
- _DSC2985.JPG By Shenzi – http://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/s/Shenzi/02/l/1455033644svumf.jpg
- Carl Sagan picture and quote – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/36/19/ba/3619ba9861ff71a39cbfa23dcb91fdd3.jpg