Finding Meaning and Value
I’m glad the first half of this year is over, but the remaining forecast is bleak. Like everyone I’m influenced by the constant news about natural disasters, shootings, exposes, scandals, and political travesty.
For me personally the first half of 2018 has been productive. I finished and published Sister of Saidnaya, A Syrian Immigrant’s Tale, my debut novel. The initial response was joyous and heart warming. Now I’m dealing with the complexity of book marketing and social media, which is all new to me, time consuming, and frequently difficult. I did have the foresight to arm myself with and read at least some of the right books like Brooke Warner’s Green-Light Your Book. I even bought My Social Media for Seniors and downloaded a Social Media packet, all of which were outdated by the time I finished revising my manuscript and began dealing with a website and promotion.
Sometimes I wanted to run away from the marketing tasks and hide in my former routines and pastimes– writing, seeing movies, plays, and operas, going out with friends, playing with grandchildren, inviting family for celebrations, reading, planning a vacation. I even found myself sliding into self-examination and melancholy, which always sends me to my book shelf. Old friends there are Viktor Frankl, a gifted psychiatrist who developed the theory of logotherapy, Rollo May, a psychotherapist who wrote Man’s Search for Himself and The Meaning of Anxiety, Paul Tillich, a world-renowned theologian who wrote The Courage to Be. My first grab from the book shelf was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. All quotations here are taken from that book.
Frankl, a victim of the Nazi concentration camps, writes that we can discover meaning in life in three different ways. First, first by creating a work, doing a deed, achieving, accomplishing. The second is through love, which he calls the “ultimate togetherness” … “sex is a way of expressing the experience of that ultimate togetherness which is called love.” (134) the third avenue to meaning is the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. Frankl encourages us to acknowledge our suffering thereby viewing it as an experience in which we can see meaning.”
Frankl’s point is that “man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.” (154).
Frankl “presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable. And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other words what matters is to make the best of any given situation.” (162).
Frankl brings up the frequent typical American command to “be happy” but explains that “one must have a reason to be happy. Once a reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically.”
Lastly, Frankl asserts that the old need not envy the young nor would they want to. The older individual might say “‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. Those sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud….’”144)
In probing the meaning of life according to Viktor Frankl, I have at least heeded the Socratic injunction that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” and lightened my heart.
In the process I have also learned that if am to be a “self-determining” person, I must make the grand effort and push the work that I have created through whatever means I can.
Viktor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning. A Washington Square publication of POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY 10020.