- The meaning of life is hidden in your response to unique circumstances of your existence
According to Frankl, each human existence is unique. We have a unique set of psychophysical givens, how they are called by Frankl – the things we do not have much control over. These are the basics of existence such as the location we were born in, the society we were born into, economic circumstances, our physical appearance, hereditary illnesses and similar.
The whole philosophy of Frankl is based on transcendence of these psychophysical givens. By giving us a concrete set of circumstances and uniqueness life is asking us a question and is seeking a response from us.
“In the end, a man should not ask what the meaning of his life is but should realize that it is he who is asked. In essence, every man is asked by life, and he can only answer by answering for his or her own life.” ~ Viktor Frankl
- Meaning is not given in advance – it has to be found
Meaning of life is not handed to us in an obvious manner. As opposed to, for example, Jean-Paul Sartre, who thinks that meaning should be built by ourselves, Frankl considers it to be inherent to certain situation. It is only upon us to find it.
For him- the means of doing that is the conscience. But Frankl does not see conscience in a typical manner of evaluation of one’s actions in terms of good and bad. He sees it as our capacity to differentiate between requests certain situations pose us.
And this does not concern only challenging life situations, such as illness. Every situation in life requests something of us. The idea is to see what it is, in order to be able to respond. In this very response to Frankl, there is the essence of becoming a man. Our existence becomes our own only insofar we take responsibility for it.
- A man is always free.
His freedom lays precisely in his capability to respond to the question given to him by life. Even in the direst of circumstances, in which all freedoms are taken away from a human being, he or she has the ability to find freedom, so Frankl. These kinds of theories may sound like empty theories weren’t they coming from a man who spent 4 years of his life in concentration camps.
- Life always makes sense…
…even when it doesn’t look that way. Life is meaningful from the beginning to the end and every situation can be made meaningful, according to Frankl. And if a situation appears meaningless, it is not because it is really meaningless, but because we are not in contact with the meaning. We might not be able to see it at that particular moment. In order to be able to see it, it is Frankl’s advice to refine our conscience as a means of finding a meaning.
- Meaning can be found in multiple ways
Through work or artistic creation, projects or other kind of creation in which we actively participate in life. Also, through experience. It can be drawn from enjoyment in the beauty, relationships, art or our legacy. And in a situation in which none of this is possible, as was Frankl’s experience in the concentration camp, meaning can be found in choosing one’s attitude towards the situation.
But meaning does not have to be and is not one and final. Each situation calls for a specific action and specific response. Our ability to detect and create a meaningful life is reflected precisely within this ability to respond to various unique and unrepeatable situations.