How to Find Life Purpose
Greetings from Austria!
A psychiatrist and philosopher will teach you this lesson. I'm Victor Frankl, and this is my story.
It was World War II when my family and I were sent to a Nazi concentration camp. Three years full of pain, and nobody from my family survived. Except for me.
The horrific Holocaust experience changed my perception of humanity. I witnessed eye-opening prisoners' behavior and how they dealt with their dreadful fate. These observations introduced me to the truth.
Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.
I believe it is the will to meaning, not the will to pleasure or power (as early 20th century psychiatrists Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler respectively insist) that is the driving force of humankind.
People, who had a reason why they should survive, have gone through the struggles with tremendous courage.
It did not matter what their motivation was for survival, whether it was hope for a reunion with beloved ones or finishing the book they wanted to write. It was the presence of life's meaning that also gave sense to their suffering.
To quote Nietzsche's classic: "Those who have a why can bear any how."
Even if you have no intuitive meaning at hand, you have the freedom and power of choice to find one.
Having a purpose in life keeps us going and gives us hope in the darkest hours. But the meaning is also a necessary condition for a fulfilled and happy life.
However, it is essential to understand that achieving happiness or self-realization should never an end in itself.
Happiness or self-realization is instead a consequence of fulfilling our meaning of life. Because the more we strive for something, the harder it is to achieve it.
When we forget about ourselves by fully diving into something, we realize most of our potential.
Think of the times you were entirely consumed by an activity, and it felt meaningful?
Examples: building a treehouse when you were 11, finding first love in high school, volunteering for the community, starting a project, etc.
I believe there are three main ways to find meaning in life.
The first one is purposeful work or creation. One of the things that kept my courage during the concentration camp time was the idea of writing the book on the search for meaning. Creating art or starting a business project that excites us are possible meanings we can create for ourselves.
The second one is experiencing the good, truth, beauty, nature, or the highest of them - love. Only through love can we truly understand another human being and find purpose in helping others.
The last way to find meaning is through suffering. When we cannot change the situation, we have to change our perception of it. There's a story I always told an older man with depression whose wife passed away. I helped him see that his purpose had been to spare his wife from the pain of losing him first. So it was at this moment his suffering got meaning, and he was able to live again.
We have to stop asking life for our meaning but perceive it as if life asks us about it every day. We have to stop thinking about what we expect from life but what life expects from us.
What would your answer be when life asks you about your meaning? What does life expect from you?
That question, I am convinced, could only be answered by taking responsibility and fulfilling the tasks that life presents us with every day.
Thank you for your time, my friend! I wish you a meaningful day.