One of the chief preoccupations of a human’s life is making meaning. Where previous generations could rely on religion, nowadays religions influence has waned and we’re now left to making meaning for ourselves. As Nietzsche would say, God is dead and we have killed him.
Different philosophies, guru’s and thinkers have cropped up to fill the void that a lack of religion has left. Victor Frankl was one such thinker, who after surviving Nazi concentration camps would go on to pioneer logotherapy and write several best-selling books. The insight behind all of Frankl’s work was the notion that the primary motivational force of any individual is to find meaning in their life.
In his book Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything, he argues that rather than asking life questions (“What is the meaning of life?”), we are instead being asked questions by life, which we answer daily with our actions. He also provided the following framework for making meaning.
Action is all about channeling your time and energy into a labor of love. Whether it’s family, art, business, politics, or a charitable organization, the key here is to put yourself in service of some higher calling. Often these are pursuits that will outlive the individual, and have an impact beyond the immediate self.
Another aspect of meaning-making is learning to appreciate things like nature, works of art, and people. Some people have dedicated their whole lives to travel and making meaning out of experiencing the beauty that life has to offer.
Perhaps one of the most important ways we make meaning is through the ways that we respond to suffering. Frankl, being a Holocaust camp survivor observed that often the difference between those who survived and those who perished was the former had something to live for, a “why”. In other words, whoever has a why to live can bear any how.