Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Finding Meaning in Modern Life

By Roberto Blanco, M.D.

During recent travels, I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and came across Man’s Search for Meaning at the bookstore. It is written by Dr. Viktor Frankl, a Viennese professor and psychiatrist before World War II, who became a holocaust survivor. Dr. Frankl narrates his experiences and observations in different concentration camps and describes how, against all odds, he survived.

Dr. Frankl, however, did not intend the book to be solely a tale about survival. As he explained in his preface to the 1984 edition, he wrote the book so that others could see concretely that life, even in the most hopeless and miserable conditions, holds meaning. He wanted to show how having meaning in one’s life is the most important aspect to living fulfilling lives. In the book, Dr. Frankl proposed that he was able to survive because of luck and because his faith that his survival had some great meaning was unshakeable. During years spent in brutal conditions in concentration camps, Dr. Frankl was able to endure by finding some goodness to hold on to, even if sometimes this goodness could only be found in his head. He also observed how those who eventually lost motivation and hope usually did not survive much longer.

It is difficult not to be inspired by Dr. Frankl’s story, but it makes me think about how difficult it can be to feel fulfilled in our modern world. How can a man who had everything in his life taken away from him, find more meaning in his life than many who have all of the freedoms and material possessions they could want? I think that the answer lies in slowing down to appreciate the little things in life and to appreciate the meaning of it all. Every day should serve as a challenge to find a meaning, even if it is a small one.

The ways in which people find meaning depend on their age, current role in life, and developmental stage. Some people are motivated by special people in their lives; the relationships that provide meaning often change as people become independent of parents, find partners, and then have children of their own. Others develop a relationship with a higher power, which also can change as they grow and change themselves. And finally, having a mission, vocation, or cause often gives people meaning to their lives. These often change, as well, as people change careers, go back to school, or have other new experiences.

On a day-to-day basis, here are some things that you can do to answer the challenge of the day:

1. Be kind to another person.
2. Strike up a conversation with a friendly stranger.
3. Re-connect with an old friend.
4. Reminisce about that special memory that brings back positive feelings.
5. Further your cause or mission in some way.
6. Participate in a favorite hobby, sport, or special interest.
7. Pray.
8. Go for a walk.
9. Tell that special someone how you feel about them.
I’m interested to hear, what is it that brings meaning to your life?


  1. We thank you for this post. I am Executive Producer of an upcoming documentary, Viktor & I, An Alexander Vesely Film about the personal side of Dr. Viktor Frankl. His grandson, Alexander Vesely is my partner and the filmmaker. We are submitting to Film Festivals now and hope to release the film publicly next Spring. Please see the website: http://www.viktorandimovie.com

    Dr. Frankl would be honored to see his work so mentioned here..thank you!

  2. Dear Roberto, May I request to you mention one of the meanings given by Victor which touched you most?

    Also, what is special or specific in Victor's model of psychotherapy- logotherapy?


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