To be sure, man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning to one’s life. There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become.
What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.
So if therapists wish to foster their patients’ mental health, they should not be afraid to create a sound amount of tension through a reorientation toward the meaning of one’s life.
Viktor E. Frankl — Man’s Search For Meaning (pp. 103-105)
Frankl miraculously survived being cast into the Nazi network of concentration and extermination camps. When someone with his experience talks about searching for meaning, you listen. He has witnessed atrocities that you or I could never begin to fathom.
We all have forces beyond our control that sometimes take away our possessions, our innocence, or our freedom. At one point or another, we are all dealt a bad hand and have to decide how we will respond. We cannot control what happens to us in life, but we can always control what we will feel and do about what happens to us. In our response to our situation or what has happened to us is where the greatest power hides.
It’s easy to get swept up in feeling sorry for ourselves when things aren’t going our way. We tell ourselves stories about how life isn’t fair and so-and-so wronged us and hurt our feelings.
We may have some tension in our lives because we haven’t seriously considered our why. We may be easily annoyed and instantly irritable because we’re lacking meaning in our lives.
Having survived the concentration camps, I suspect Frankl has just a slightly different perspective than any of us who still possess our basic freedoms and can afford to buy a Starbucks latte anytime we feel like it. If you have some tension in your life as a result of a lack of meaning, take some time to figure out what why would be worth living for.
Have a blessed day.
Peace and Love,
PS. If you’re interested, here’s a 6 minute video about Frankl and his book.