Man’s Search for Meaning

I just finished reading “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl for my book club. I should say rather I just finished listening to it. I have a hard time squeezing in reading unless I am on vacation. So I tried to listen to it while I was driving in between clients.

Heavy book to listen to however, especially in between clients.

It was a great book and one that I think everyone should read.

We talked in my book club about how if you are ever feeling sorry for yourself, or feel that you have hard trials and suffering – then you need to read this book. It puts everything into perspective. Nothing can put things more into perspective than reading about living, and then surviving several concentration camps (and losing your entire family too).

It is the kind of book that I am sure you can read and re-read and take something new away from it every time.

There were a few things that really struck me when reading it:

1) His deep love for his wife. He talks about how his thoughts of her, his visions of her, his ability to have conversations with her in his mind, kept him going. His undying love for her was what helped him through his everyday, and helped him find the strength to carry on. What an amazing love and testament to how important love is, how important that “one” whom you love should be. It just made me think of how precious true love is, and what a gift it is to share it with someone.

This of course, is in stark contrast to an article I read in Today’s Parent magazine about “Why parents cheat”. It was an interesting read. However, it always amazes me how infidelity is so justified to so many people: “If I am not happy and you are not making me happy, then I have every right to go out and find someone on the side that will make me happy”.

Do we just not value love in the same way? Do we just have “too much” in our lives that we feel so entitled to so many things without necessarily owning our own happiness?

Which leads me to the next thought that jumped out at me from the book:

2) I wish I could quote this word for word, but since I listened to the book, I can only give the gist:

Many people have/live/experience the same conditions as other people. It is not the conditions that define the outcome, or the result, or our overall experience. It is the decisions we make when we are enduring the conditions that determine the outcome.

Many people endured concentration camps. What was different for each person was how they endured this unthinkable trial.

Makes me think of the quote: “You can’t always change your circumstance, but you can change how you think about your circumstance”.

While reading the book, I often thought, “What would I have done”? “How would I have reacted”? I marvel at the strength people found. I marvel at the ability many had to not only survive, but to still keep their faith, still keep their hope, and still, find meaning in their lives. What that teaches about the human spirit is incredible. The outside conditions do not define us. It is our inner self where the strenth lies.

3) The last thing (there were many many other things, but the last thing I will share) was something he talked about in a chapter that was added years after the original book was published.

He reports how statistics show that people who attempt to commit suicide, and are not succesful, months or sometimes years later are almost always happy that the suicide attempt was not successful. They almost always are able to move to a better place, at a later time. This makes me sad as I think of all the people who have ended their lives with the feeling that things would never get better.

Working with the clients I work with, I am often faced with clients who are in the depths of despair, and suicide is often an option on their list. Right before Christmas this year, I sat with a client in the emergency room after his call that he couldn’t do it anymore. I only wished that I could fast forward his life a bit and show him what he had to live for: his daughter’s wedding? His son’s graduation? The birth of a grandchild? But I do not know what he has in store for him.

I think often of one of my favorite clients who took his own life a couple of years ago, never being able to get over the changes in his life since he was involved in the accident that seemingly took everything from him. Would he see things differently now? Would he have been one of the stats saying he was glad that his attempt had not worked?

Frankl discusses how we sometimes only understand the meaning of our lives at the end of our lives – on our death bed in fact. He makes the comparision to a movie. We can analyze individual scenes, and come to some understanding of them, but it is only when the whole film is completed, and we have seen it all, that we can we really understand how things were linked together and why they occurred in the order that they did. We can’t understand the full meaning of the movie until we have seen the whole movie. That holds for life too: Why did that happen to us? Why do we suffer? Why did we experience this? We may only understand the movie when the credits are rolling, and we are able to piece it all together.

That means, there are many different “scenes” we are living now that may not make sense. We need to just hold on with the faith that the meaning may be obscured right now, but it will all make sense in the end. Of course, the question of when is the actual end is also question of individual faith.

It was a heavy read – but I think it is a must read at some point in everyone’s life. Certainly helps me feel gratitude for the blessings and trials that I have had in my life. And, of course, to appreciate and savour the precious moments and joy that I am granted now.

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