What Truly Gives Life Meaning
“Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.”
Viktor Frankl (above)
Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” was one of the most influential books I’ve ever read.
I avoided reading it for a long time because it was about his time in the concentration camps and I didn’t think my heart could handle hearing those stories. But luckily, one day, I picked up this little book and read it.
Yes, it’s a story of his time in Dachau and Auschwitz and you hear about what it was like being a prisoner there. But Viktor doesn’t tell it in an alarmist way. He doesn’t tell it in a way to upset us. He shares what he learned there because it is often in these extremely difficult situations that we truly understand what being human is all about.
What was amazing to him was that every person in the camps lost everything that we would imagine could bring us happiness and meaning. They lost their families, work, money, success, future, friends, prestige, and freedom. Whether you were a millionaire or unable to pay the rent, you were now all equal.
And it was awful. Really, really awful.
But what he saw amazed him and made him realize that they hadn’t lost all of their freedoms. They still had the freedom to choose how they reacted to every single thing that happened.
One time, in the early morning before dawn, they were walking single file to the railroad tracks where they were working. They were cold, starving, and walking in shoes that were too small. Suddenly, the man behind him tapped Viktor on the shoulder and motioned for him to look up at the horizon.
There, the sun was rising in the most beautiful colours.
No matter what, his friend chose to focus on the beautiful sunrise.
There were always people dying in the camp. What amazed Viktor was that there would be those men who would give the thin broth and bread that they had been given to the sick man because he needed it. And there were other men who would steal the broth and bread from the sick man because they figured the sick man didn’t need it anyway.
Same situation… completely different choices.
The point of his book is that it is this freedom to choose that actually gives our life meaning.
It is the fact that no matter what comes before us, we get to choose our reaction. We matter. How we see the world and what we choose defines us as who we are.
This reminds me of another of my favourite quotes by him:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
In every moment, we get to pause and ask ourselves how we would like to respond to this. How can we respond that is truly in line with who we are inside? How can we respond in a way that creates the life that we desire — regardless of our circumstances?”
In every moment, we get to choose.
And every time we choose, we are truly alive, conscious, and happily plotting our course — imbuing our lives with deeply personal meaning.