Man’s Search for Meaning

Man's search for trainingMan’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust,consists of two parts. The first half is the memoir of Viktor’s experience in the concentration camps,. He talked about emotions, suffering, love, human existence, and the meaning of life. The second half explains his theories of logotherapy. This is an emotionally and intellectually challenging classic. A must-read in my opinion!

Unlike the overall historic picture of the Holocaust that I learned from textbooks, Viktor’s memoire describes the daily life inside of the camp from an average prisoner’s view. He defined the three psychological stages of a prisoner: shock, apathy, and what he called “depersonalization” after liberation. Apathy is the scariest stage. After a while, the prisoners got so used to death and crime that they simply stopped reacting to them. In an incident that Viktor accounted, the corpse of a prisoner was being dragged by in front of his eyes, his reaction? “Two hours before I had spoken to that man. Now I continued sipping my soup.” This quote sent chills down my spine. After years of trekking from camp to camp, only those prisoners who “lost all scruples” and used every mean to survive, honest or dishonest, were able to save themselves. Viktor lamented the brutality of the reality, “we know: the best of us did not return.”

According to Viktor, logotherapy “considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts…or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and environment.” In other words, men must have the will to meaning. We have to actively look for a purpose for our lives because the “meaning of life” is different for everyone.

Another interesting point in logotherapy is what Viktor called “hyper-intention.” When people try too hard to avoid a condition, they might make it worse because they focus on it too much thus become over-anxious. On the contrary, giving less attention to or even learning to ridicule certain problem might make it better. For example, someone with a stuttering problem will actually stutter less when they care less about it. While happiness is a choice, there’s a lot of unhappiness-shaming nowadays. People are so carefully avoiding it that they are not only unhappy, but unhappy about being unhappy. We all feel down at times and it’s totally natural. There’s fine line between optimism and denial. Continue reading


Tuesdays with Morrie–Part II


 “Aging is not just decay…it’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”

People don’t like talking about death. It’s like a taboo. But Morrie had a positive view on it. Understanding death dissipates the fear and enables people to realize how they really want their lives to be. Sometimes people live like they will never die—relentlessly chasing after materialistic values. “We put our values in the wrong things. And it leads to very disillusioned lives.”

Morrie said that the wish to be young again signifies “unfulfilled lives” and “lives that haven’t found meaning.” The meaning of life is different for everyone, but there’s no such thing as “too late” when it comes to finding yours. Morrie was changing until the day he said good-bye.

“As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two.”

As my friends and I start to transition from early-twenties to mid-twenties, I can say that quarter-life crisis is definitely valid. Besides realizing that you are an actual adult, I think what freaks young folks out more is the realization that we can’t stay young forever. Since my late teenage years, I always looked back at myself from two years ago and saw so many immature thoughts and actions. The intensity has flattened out a bit; unlike looking at my 18-year-old self when I was 20, I don’t see a complete idiot when I think about my 20-year-old self now. Seeing aging as growth can help us accept getting older, since it will happen anyhow.

“It’s impossible for the old not to envy the young. But the issue is to accept who you are and revel in that.” Everyone gets their turn to be young; and every age has its beauty. But it’s up to you to find what’s “good and true and beautiful in your life as it is now.”

“This is how you start to get respect, by offering something that you have.”

This is one of my favorite quotes from Morrie. Existential crisis occurs when people start questioning the meaning of their lives. Offering what you have. What a beautiful and simple idea. I have a lot to offer! It could be tutoring young kids, volunteering, helping a friend in need, or simply being generous with my compliments. Offering makes you happy! 🙂 Continue reading

Tuesdays with Morrie–Part I

Tuesdays with Morrie is my favorite book. Why have I not written about it? 14 Tuesdays with Morrie with 14 valuable lessons, this book of wisdom is always on my shelf. Sometimes when I’m stressed out, I would open it and read a few highlighted quotes. It helps me take a step back and realize that there are more important things in life.

“Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

This is my favorite line in the book. If you accept the fact that you might die anytime, you might behave differently. If you were to die tomorrow, have you been the person you wanted to be? This is in no way morbid. It’s the opposite.

It’s not about big plans like starting backpacking around the world tomorrow. Instead, have you always wanted to donate blood? Hike in Yosemite? Volunteer in a shelter? Go do those things. Life is not about what you did in one crazy day. It’s a puzzle pieced together by every single day.

It’s not necessarily about if you’ve accomplished everything you wanted—if you got that law degree or traveled to Antarctica (although those would be nice, too)—it’s about whether you’ve been the person you want to be. Have you been generous, forgiving, loving, humorous, or anything you might “wish” you were?

“Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, ‘Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?’”

“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

The sense of meaningfulness that “devoting yourself to loving others” brings is incredible. It’s no secret that giving brings more joy than receiving. Personally, volunteering has been an important ingredient in my recipe of happiness. I’ve been a consistent volunteer at the homeless shelter and nursing home etc. It feels wonderful to make a difference by making someone’s day better. Not to mention that you can learn so much about others and yourself during the process. If you can afford a couple extra hours per week for a great return of happiness, please try it! It’s the most selfless way to be selfish.

It’s also in the small things. Surprise a stressed-out friend with a candy bar; compliment on the style of a girl who seems to have put in a lot of effort in her outfit today; buy the homeless man two muffins when he only asks for one. Continue reading

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the ButterflyThis tragic memoir is not for the faint of heart. Journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby tells a poignant story of his life before and after a massive stroke. I could not believe how it was written! Blinking 200,000 times over 10 months while the transcriber repeatedly recited the French alphabet. Can you imagine?

“The memory of that event has only just come back to me, now doubly painful: regret for a vanished past and, above all, remorse for lost opportunities. Mithra-Grandchamp is the women we were unable to love, the chances we failed to seize, the moments of happiness we allowed to drift away. Today it seems to me that my whole life was nothing but a string of those small near misses: a race whose result we know beforehand but in which we fail to bet on the winner.”

This sounds like a common regret of people on their deathbeds. Nothing haunts you like the things you could’ve said or done. While I’m all for seizing the moment, this quote reminds of what Morrie from Tuesdays with Morrie said: forgive yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for chances you’ve missed or things you could’ve been. At the end of the day, make peace with others and forgive yourself too.

“Today is Father’s Day. Until my stroke, we had felt no need to fit this made-up holiday into our emotional calendar. But today we spend the whole of the symbolic day together, affirming that even a rough sketch, a shadow, a tiny fragment of a dad is still a dad.”

I love this quote. I used to tell people that I’m not a fan of all the made-up holidays, that it just a commercial tool. Sounds a bit cynical, doesn’t it? Now I see these them as reminders of the important people and things we have in our lives. Let it be Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or National Chocolate Day. No need to complain; rise and celebrate woohoo! Continue reading