It amazes me how books written so long ago are still so relevant today. You would think that after 50 years, certain principles would become outdated due to the new norms of our ever-evolving society. But they don't. The same ideals and values that were important back then are still important today.
The teachings in Man's Search for Meaning (1946) are a prime example. Though the world is certainly a different place than when this was written, the messages in this book hold truer than ever.
Viktor Frankl, the author, endured catastrophic terror and still managed to uphold ideals that are seldom seen in today's society. Here are a few quotes from the book that I found particularly inspiring.
"I shall never forget how I was roused one night by the groans of a fellow prisoner, who threw himself about in his sleep, obviously having a horrible nightmare. Since I had always been especially sorry for people who suffered from fearful dreams or deliria, I wanted to wake the poor man. Suddenly, I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do. At that moment I became intensely conscious of the fact that no dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us..."
Man's Search for Meaning is Viktor Frankl's first-hand account of the Holocaust, one of the darkest events in our world's history. Frankl experienced humiliation, abuse, starvation and the death of his entire family while in Nazi concentration camps. Yet, he not only survived, he came out of it with a positive mindset and a willingness to help others.
Nowadays, there are people (who have every freedom and luxury known to man) scouring the internet claiming that "2016 was the worst year ever." If you're one of those people, please do yourself a favor and read this book. Gain some perspective. And stop complaining. The world is a much better place now than it was 30 or 50 or 100 years ago.
"...there are two races of men in this world, but only these two. The race of the decent man, and the race of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere. They penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of pure race, and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards."
It seems like most of the increasingly negative chatter on social media nowadays stems from an issue where two groups of people are pitted against one another. Publicly taking a stance- politically, socially, or religiously- is often met with harsh criticism. No matter what side of the issue you're on, labeling your entire opposition by one title is misguided and unfair. I choose to believe that the vast majority of humans are good, and I treat people as such. There will always be a few bad apples, but don't let them spoil the whole bunch. If Frankl was able to find redeeming qualities in Nazi soldiers who held him captive in a concentration camp, I think you can find a way to get along with someone who voted for Trump.
"What man actually needs is not a tension-less state, but rather the striving and struggling for a worth-while goal."
This sentiment has been echoed by great men and women throughout history. Happiness is not achieved by reaching a certain level of comfort. On the contrary, comfort is the enemy. It halts progress. This is something I've "struggled" with personally. I live a pretty comfortable life (I know, boo-hoo poor me). I have a healthy family and a steady income and a house in the suburbs and all the security and safety that comes along with it. I could accept working a ho-hum job for the next 40 years, go on a few nice vacations, have a decent marriage, and pretty much mail it in for the rest of my life and be good. But is that even really living?
For me, the answer is no. I don't want good. I want great. Like I said, I live a pretty comfortable life, which is why I strongly believe in creating adversity and setting lofty personal goals. Adversity doesn't have to mean anything crazy. It can be as subtle as consistently doing things that are difficult- like waking up every day at 4 AM, writing a gratitude journal, or practicing meditation. From that adversity comes growth. Similarly, setting real goals that are difficult to reach, yet achievable, (and laying out a plan to accomplish them) will prevent you from aimlessly wandering through life without a purpose. The struggle is what makes life exciting. It's part of the process. And like Frankl also mentions in this book, happiness and success are not found at the end of a long and winding road. The are found along the way.
"So live as if you were living already for the second time, and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now."
Wow. Stop and think about that for a second.
That's some Inception/Minority Report/Deja Vu-type stuff.
"The more one forgets himself, by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love, the more human he is."
We recently did an exercise for our Young Professionals group at work in which groups were asked to name a person who has successfully built their personal brand. The names were those which you'd expect- Steve Jobs, The Rock, J.J. Watt, etc. But what surprised me is that when asked why they chose their specific person, ALL of the groups mentioned the act of giving. Across the board, helping others was the quality that everyone admired most.
Greatness is about serving someone or something greater than yourself. If your motivation is selfish, you'll only go so far.
"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 chose one's own way."
This is my favorite quote from the book. Frankl describes that between every stimulus and every response there is specific, instantaneous moment in which we are able to choose our course of action. I love this quote because it holds true in any situation. There is so much in this world that we have absolutely zero control over- where you're from, who your parents are, the weather, the government, etc. But we always have have control over our own personal choices.
Rather than wasting time and energy complaining about any number of external circumstances, you can choose to accept them and make the most of your situation.
Reading Man's Search for Meaning was definitely an eye-opening experience. There is so much we take for granted in today's society. In a world full of complaining and negativity, just remember that you can choose to be positive. I highly recommend giving this a read.