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Search for the meaning of life

india Updated: May 06, 2010 22:43 IST
Pankaj Kumar

A man needs to have a meaning in life in order to be productive and happy. This fact was impressed upon me while rereading after several years the modern classic, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E Frankl.

Frankl was a psychotherapist who was confined in concentration camps by the Nazis. Upon his release after the defeat of Adolf Hitler, he founded a school of psychiatry known as logotherapy, based on his experience and reading. (Logo means meaning)

Frankl says that a person can discover the meaning of life by a, doing some work; b, reading a book, experiencing a work of art, contact with nature or by loving a person; and c, adopting the right attitude towards suffering.

We can understand a person well only if we love him or her. Sex is justified, even sanctified but only as long as it is a vehicle of love, Frankl says.

Today a large number of people feel there is no meaning in their lives. Frankl calls it the existential vacuum. Some existentialist philosophers teach us to endure the meaninglessness of life. But he tells us that we cannot understand the meaning of life just by logic or reasoning.

Frankl cautions that the meaning of life cannot be specified in general terms. It varies from person to person and can be specified only for the present moment. To ask an expert in general terms what is the meaning of life is as absurd as asking a grandmaster, “What is the best move in chess?”

Philosopher Nietzsche, stressing on the importance of having meaning in life, says,"He who has a why to live, can bear any how."

Robin Sharma, author of inspirational books, says Frankl managed to survive in the concentration camp by using the highest human freedom of choice: “Our ability to choose how we can respond to and process any event that happens to us. We can look for some good or we can become haunted by the bad.”