Man’s Search for Meaning/Hit Me Like a Skittle Bus

Hello there! Been a while hasn’t it? I would apologise for my erratic posting schedule, but trust me, you really don’t want the alternative. It would go the same way as my regular phonecalls with my Mum do. We both insist on asking each other “any news?” every single day. Spoiler: there is never any news. We’re both living lockdown Groundhog Day. Still, we live in hope.

Oh, that reminds me. Mum, I know you’re reading this.

…Any news?

I came on here to enthuse about a book I’ve read this past week that hit me like a bus. In a good way, though. A bus made of marshmallows that was full of Skittles and puppies, and suchlike.

The book isn’t a new one by any stretch – it’s been around since 1946, so it’s taken me long enough to get around to reading it (haw haw), but I’m so glad I did. Sometimes the perfect book comes into your life at exactly the right time, which is precisely what happened for me with Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Right now, the covid-y carousel of horror that is the news and the raging wheely bin fire that is social media offer very little in the way of comfort. Pair that with repetitive, rainy, locked-down days and no guarantee of life ever returning to (I’m starting to hate this word) “normal”, and you’ve got yourself a potent recipe for hopelessness.   

Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and philosopher survived four (four!) different concentration camps during World War Two and still managed to emerge from the nightmarish experience with a strengthened conviction that there is meaning to be found in life, in spite of even the most painful experiences. Man’s Search for Meaning is a testament to this, and is split into two parts. The first documents what he went through in the concentration camps, and the second is more philosophical, going into more detail about his theories and beliefs. Both are fantastic.

There is no way I can do his writing justice here, but I feel compelled to share the love for it, so that’s what I’m going to do! I suppose you could say that I find meaning in the task…

Anyway, here are some of the key take-aways from this wonderful book that resonated with me:

Happiness is a by-product, not a goal.

Frankl believed that modern society’s obsession with pursuing happiness is senseless. He saw happiness as a result of doing or experiencing something meaningful, not an end in itself. He believed that searching for happiness for its own sake is like trying to push your way into a room via a door that only opens outwards. Man loved an analogy.

Meaning is individual and situational.

He wrote that asking “what is the meaning of life?” is akin to asking a master chess player which one move is the best chess move. It would be impossible to answer. The best move depends entirely on the situation, as well as to the unique person the situation is happening to. The issue, he said, lies in the question itself. It isn’t our place to ask what the meaning is in a given experience, day, or lifetime. We’re approaching it the wrong way round. Frankl instead encourages us to realise that life is asking questions of us every moment of every day. The future isn’t ours to know. Our responsibility is to think about what life is asking from us right now. It’s how we answer, whether that’s verbally, in action, or in attitude, that gives us our sense of meaning.

There are 3 main ways meaning can be found.

These are through:

  • Action/work. By work, I mean what you focus your energy on, not necessarily what pays the bills. Although the two kinds of work don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
  • Experience e.g through appreciating nature or loving others.
  • Suffering. Not suffering for its own sake, though. If you can do anything to alleviate it, then that’s what should be done, but in cases where the suffering is unavoidable, meaning can be found by the acceptance and endurance of it.

Life’s transience is what gives it meaning.

If we were to live forever, we would never do anything of note. There wouldn’t be any need to. There would be no legacy to leave behind, because we ourselves would never be leaving. As we age, rather than mourning that we have fewer pages left on our calendars, we should instead rejoice in the ever expanding catalogue of actions we’ve taken, choices we’ve made and things we’ve experienced. Every second, we make choices, and everything filed away into the past becomes permanent and unchangeable. No one can erase us from this fixed past. We are safe and saved there.

There is so much more to Man’s Search for Meaning than I’ve shared here, but if this way of thinking tickles your pickle (my pickle was well and truly tickled), then I definitely recommend a read. I wasn’t expecting something written by a holocaust survivor to be anywhere near this hopeful and life affirming.

I stumbled across it as a Daily Deal on Kindle a while back, and I’m incredibly glad I did. I’ve since listened to the audiobook version of a series of lectures Frankl also wrote on the same topic called Yes to Life in Spite of Everything, which is more philosophical than biographical, but just as absorbing. If you, like me have been feeling a bit “blah” lately, you might find both works helpful too. If you do end up reading either, come back here and let me know how you got on!

In the meantime, links to both books below:

Man’s Search for Meaning

Yes to Life in Spite of Everything

Hope you’re looking after yourself. Until next time..whenever that is! xx

“What happened?”
“He asked what the meaning of life was.”
“Ahh…a rook-ie mistake…”
“Sigh…why are you like this?”

Getting in the Habit

Disclaimer: not a fun, punny post involving nuns. Telling you up front to save you time if you came for nun content. Apologies.

Ok, so I wasn’t planning on writing anything this evening, let alone blogging, but following my first (socially distanced) spin class in what feels like 300 years, I feel like this:

No, it wasn’t raining. It was indoors and I’m just that sweaty. Hot in every sense of the word, I know.

Clearly, the exertion has knocked some reserve of manic energy loose that I didn’t know I had and now I need to do something with it. Also, you’d look like this too if you’d been pedaling like a demon to bangers like Proud Mary for the last 45 minutes. Don’t judge.

To give you some sort of context, I didn’t plan on doing much after the class because I’ve been a bit knackered. Combo of:

  • Starting a new jobbo! This week, I’ve been constantly bowled over by how much genuine passion everyone I’m meeting has for their work and how lovely they all are. Remotely taking in lots of new information, names and faces over Skype all day has left me behaving like a cranky toddler come the evenings. All I’ve wanted has dinner and a snooze. Also sweets.
  • The weather. Always a trending topic in Britain, but more so this week, as the UK appears to have floated up into space and relocated to the surface of the sun while we weren’t looking. I don’t think I’ve slept for more than an hour at a time between waking up, cursing the useless open window and trying to smother myself back to unconsciousness with my pillow. It’s made for some pretty impressive storms, though; The weather, not my cursing. I’m not that powerful.
  • Stupid book. Last week, I read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. I had a little breather in between leaving my last job and starting in my new role and decided to fill the time with as much fun stuff as I could.

    Anyone who knows me knows that “fun stuff” for me involves learning about human psychology and then trying to psycholog…erise (?) myself as a result. The book is great, and I’d highly recommend it. It teaches you the main ways that habits are formed and how you can make or break habits of your choosing.

    What it doesn’t advise you to do is attempt to implement ALL of the habits at once. Here is a list of some of the things I’ve decided I’m going to be doing every day since reading it:
    • Learn Portuguese via Duolingo.
    • Write every day. I’m writing the first draft of this post on a site called 750words.com, which incentivises writing 750 words daily by giving you stats and emailing you reminders to log in.
    • Working out and hitting my step goal. Generally do this anyway, seeing as all my nervous energy has to go somewhere lest I implode, but my inner narcissist fancied a humblebrag.
    • Answering at least one section of of whatever college assignment I’m in the middle of at the time.

Add this lot to the usual stuff like walk the dog, do the dishes, remember to interact with the bloke in the kitchen (I think he said his name was Andy. Seems like a nice chap – he’s been feeding me for 9 years) and sleep, I’m starting to see this might have been a slightly insane undertaking.

…Is this how people who have kids feel all the time? I don’t understand how it’s done and am both impressed with and mildly frightened of you and your time management powers.

I’m not too sure where I’m going with this post. The endorphin-fueled mania is quickly giving way to a mild stupor, so I’d better wrap this up while I can still sort-of spell.

Right. So. My grand point will be…that I am going to create a new habit to add to my list of habits!

My new habit will be to get in the habit of not doing all of the aforementioned habits every single day. Honestly, who was that helping and/or impressing? It leaves zero room for spontaneity, rest, Netflix or additional snacks, and the latter is borderline criminal. I chose to do all of those things to feel good and cater to my mental health and interests. Trust me to opt into the least healthy way of putting them into practice.

As Atomic Habits suggests, the best way to start my new habit of breaking habits is to start small. I’ll pick one thing per day that I absolutely cannot do and build from there. I think, given time, dedication and supreme effort, I will eventually win at not doing stuff. I may even be able to compete at an elite level.

I’m sure there’s a more serious message to be found here about looking after your well-being and not turning self care into self torture, but I’ll let you work that one out for yourself. I appear to be knackered again.

Off to lie in the dark and curse at the temperature some more. I hope you found this enlightening. Go forth and do nothing! Or something. But not too much, okay?