11. September 2020

How to say yes to life despite facing adversity?

Yes to life in spite of everything” might sound like a now-a-days self-coaching book – but it is not.

Astonishingly, this book dates back to 1946, the end of World War II. It entails three public lectures from the famous Austrian psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, that he held in Vienna, eleven months after he was liberated from the Nazi concentration camps. In this small book Viktor Frankl shares his thoughts around meaning, resilience, and the importance of embracing life even in the face of great adversity. These lectures have only been recently published for the first time in English, and in my view, the content couldn’t be a better recall for today’s need to (re)discover our life’s purpose.

Not what happens to us, but how we respond to it matters. When we wish to find meaning in life, Frankl proposes to turn the question “What do I expect from life?” to “What is life expecting from me?” Accordingly, meaning is what unfolds when we answer this question – meaning found in every day, hour, and moment in our life. In that sense, meaning is related to taking responsibility for one’s life decisions and finding in each moment our unique answers – despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. And it is the uniqueness of responses that makes every single human life worthy. This uniqueness, however, only creates meaning if it serves others. Something that might be helpful to remember when trying to find our life purpose in an individualistic society.

Life is about unfolding meaning, not only happiness. Meaning does not come on us. We create it inwardly. It’s a door from the inward to the outward, as he puts it. It shows in our actions and “being” rather than our words. Frankl observes that we mostly create meaning from three sources: the act of creating something or working, the love for nature, art or a person (respectively group of people, e.g. family), and finally and most astonishingly: as well from suffering. Indeed, what does a sportsman or woman do other than putting him- or herself constantly in new tasks that let him or her “suffer”?

Provocatively put, he identifies suffering being most of the time the result of an inability to suffer.

A timeless reflection on how to build resilience and purpose. With his book, Viktor provides a profound and timeless lesson in how to make a life not just a living. To read this book had a deeply humbling effect on me personally. I felt as much enlightened as embarrassed. And I am convinced that we need to hear the call from somebody who was affected by the most brutal and horrific adversity in history in order to search for and find the courage to create meaning in times of crisis for ourselves. This wonderful, timeless piece of reflection is for all those who like philosophical books to find inner freedom and courage.

Dr. Eva Bilhuber
Dr. Eva Bilhuber
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