Perhaps no one has had as much influence on modern Western thought as the Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl on the true importance of knowing that our life has a meaning. He also helped us realize the devastating effects of dragging ourselves into routine existences without traces of reflection or direction to guide us.
Viktor Frankl went through traumatic experiences that are unthinkable for most of us: He was deported and imprisoned for almost three years in four concentration camps, including those of Auschwitz and Dachau. He experienced unimaginable suffering and witnessed the hardest and most humiliating tests that a human being can go through on this earth. He discovered that only 1 in 29 people were able to survive those horrific conditions, and as a psychiatrist, he was interested in finding out why. Furthermore, he confirmed that it was not the physically strongest who came out unscathed, but those for whom life continued to have meaning despite everything, those who had the illusion that someone was waiting for them, and those who felt they had a mission to fulfill when they left.
In our time, material development and freedoms have been given to most of the people in the West. Perhaps this is the reason the insidious existential emptiness is now most notorious. It often appears as a boredom that is impossible to erase with activity, object, person, or pleasure. Why?
Scholars of the subject believe that people often become conformist by simply repeating other behaviors and adopting pervading beliefs. When you impose restrictions on yourself to automatically imitate the majority, you end up doing what others want you to do or simply complying with their wishes. By doing that, you forfeit control over your own existence.
The problem appears when you begin perceiving a sort of discomfort inside. When you are not satisfied, but you are not certain why. Living on autopilot and fulfilling self-imposed duties can have a hefty price. It actually undermines your authenticity and your connection to yourself. You seem unwilling or uncommitted to be here and fully invested.
We may not pay attention to these lingering feelings because we are too busy with daily life. However, when we are on our deathbed, it will not matter how much we did, the success we had, the admiration we received, or the assets we accumulated. Nobody can take anything to the grave. However, the fulfillment and inner peace at that time will come from realizing that our work, our efforts, our activities were able to make a difference around us. We will be able to die without regrets because we know that we touched the lives of others and helped to leave behind a better world than we found.
A wise Cherokee proverb comes to mind in this regard: “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries, and you rejoice.” Hopefully, we will be able to integrate this philosophy into our lives as we travel through life. If we do, we will look back with contentment, without guilt, and without regretting what we can no longer change.
Nobody can find the meaning of life for us. I believe that it needs to go beyond self-preservation or achievement and extend to others, be it our children, the community in which we live, the planet, the rest of humanity, or God.
It is not necessarily the case that you have to have an obvious or material impact. More often than not, it has to do with personal or spiritual growth. When your deepest motivation is to contribute to the wellbeing of others, then you will think, speak, and act with the intention of not harming anyone and of being of benefit to others.
This is what makes you feel happy and purposeful, even when things are tough. This is what inspires others. This is what truly makes a difference in the world.