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The Question About Meaning That We Need To Ask Ourselves

The Question About Meaning That We Need To Ask Ourselves

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” -Viktor Frankl

In this quote, Viktor Frankl is asking us to put our point of attention outside of ourselves and look into our lives as if through a window: With the circumstances of my life, what meaning can I make?

That’s why I like how Viktor Frankl framed finding meaning our lives. Instead of asking, “What is the meaning of my life?,” we need ask: “What is life asking of me?” Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the current American obsession with the Self, and how everything we do on the internet revolves around developing and promoting our Self (or personal brand or whatever you might like to call it). To me, asking: “What is the meaning of my life?” feels in line with our individualistic tendencies. But pulling back and asking, “What is life asking of me?” feels like a question that will orient people more towards community and the outside world.

Frankl emphasizes that only you can discover the meaning in your life. No one can tell you what it is —it is a personal journey. This meaning isn’t a “vague” thing, but something “very real and concrete.” It is unique to you, and only you can run that race.

More important, finding meaning in your life is not yours—it’s whatever life is asking of you. Sometimes, we aren’t pleased with the circumstances that life hands our way, but how can we find our own meaning in those circumstances? How can we transform suffering into meaning? How can we face our lives with courage and bravery and create meaning out of it?

When asked what the meaning of his own life was in one sentence, Frankl wrote it on a piece of paper and then asked the students to guess. One student raised their hand and said, “The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs.” And Frankl replied, “That was it, exactly. Those are the very words I had written.”

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