The question of what the meaning of life is has undoubtedly been asked by many of us. We often try to construct some abstract meaning of life that we cannot seem to follow or control. However, if we want to find out what it is, it is good to ask someone who is capable of judging our human conditions with wisdom and compassion. Viktor E. Frankl.

His book “Man’s Search for Meaning” is wisdom in itself. For those who do not know Viktor Frankl, he is one of the founders of existential therapy and logotherapy, a key direction of psychology that deals with these exact questions. We have read and heard a lot about concentration camps and various stories that show us the truly difficult period of a few years ago. However, none of them speaks in the same way as Frankl, laying the foundations for logotherapy and addressing people in every life situation and era. Imagine that according to his research, the existential vacuum (loss of meaning in life) affects 60% of American and 25% of European students. How then can those who have been dealt “a few slaps” in life, older lonely people, people struck by misfortune, incurable illness, a difficult fate, or even ordinary mortals with common problems find meaning in life? Frankl is one of the experts who, after horrors and concentration camps, was left with nothing but bare life in his hands, and therefore we cannot deny him the wisdom and the way he speaks about the meaning of life.

The meaning of life cannot be formulated. The fact that the meaning of life is created by our specific and individual response to circumstances in a given situation can be very liberating. A person should not search for something abstract that they would call their meaning of life. Every person has a specific vocation or task in their life that they should fulfill and which requires fulfillment. Life poses questions and we answer. We can only answer life by living responsibly. Responsible for our own life.

Frankl argues that if life has meaning, suffering and death must also have meaning. It can be difficult to believe this at times. Dostoevsky said, “I am afraid of only one thing: not being worthy of my suffering.” You might think he’s crazy, but that’s exactly what Frankl describes in his book, through his personal experiences as an expert like no one else can. The way some people carried their suffering in the camps was a reflection of their inner victory – freedom of spirit. That is something that no one can ever take away from a person. However, every individual must come to their own understanding of the meaning of their suffering or difficult situation and accept the responsibility that their answer requires. If successful, their personality will continue to grow. Have you heard of a man named Nick Vujicic, who was born without limbs but still inspires young people and others with optimism and hope? What about other people who, despite difficult circumstances, say “YES” to life? A beautiful example in Slovakia is the non-profit organization Plamienok, which cares for terminally ill children. On their social media page, they often share testimonials from people and families who are the focus of their work. We ask ourselves, how do parents and relatives of such children find the strength and hope they need?

What Frankl describes as the most fundamental need we have, and what he experienced as a prisoner in a concentration camp, is a complete change in attitude towards life. He says, “We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life and instead think of ourselves as being questioned by life – at each and every moment. Tears were a sign that a man had been defeated only if he allowed himself to be defeated.” The hopelessness of the struggle never diminishes one’s dignity and sense of purpose. According to Frankl, those, including himself, who lived in concentration camps remember people who comforted others and shared their last piece of bread. They were few, but they provided enough evidence that one thing cannot be taken away from a person – their human freedom, the ability to choose one’s attitude in any circumstance, to choose one’s own path. The path of meaning in life. If people could do it in such hopeless situations, what more or less can we do? Because if a person suddenly loses hope and courage, it can have deadly consequences.

In the theoretical realm of logotherapy, we can discover the meaning of life in three ways:

  1. By performing some work or deeds,
  2. experiencing something or having a relationship with another person,
  3. or by adopting a certain attitude towards difficult situations.

As Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”