Living a Meaningful Life (or, survive and thrive!)

Viktor Frankel, psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor, is the author of one of the most spiritually significant books of all time – Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, Frankel describes how human beings derive meaning from the events in our lives, particularly through our suffering. His inspirational words comfort those who strive to make sense out of the nonsensical, to find beauty amidst pain.

During the years he spent in the camps, Frankl lost it all – his identity, his job, his clothing, his freedom, his hair, his physique, his health, and his family members. In their attempt to dehumanize him, his captors stripped away everything. But, try as they might, they couldn’t take away the one thing that made him a human being – his purpose for living.

Frankl realized that the inmates who survived weren’t necessarily the strongest, youngest, healthiest, luckiest, or most religious. No…those who withstood the brutality (besides having a little bit of good fortune now and again), possessed a reason to keep living. In this microcosm, this human laboratory, Frankl concluded that, “He who has a WHY can bear almost any HOW.” The prisoners who held fast to their belief that a loved one anticipated their return or who knew there was a task waiting for them to fulfill were better able to endure their suffering.

Once Frankl was released, he used this theory – the idea that man can overcome any adversity as long as he can derive meaning from it – as the foundation for his therapeutic approach: Logotherapy, defined as, meaning-centered psychotherapy.

As a psychiatrist, Frankl was, naturally, concerned with the mental health of his patients. Interestingly, though, this theory has ramifications for our physical health, as well. A blog post I came across recently explained that there are documented health benefits to living a meaningful life. In fact, the blog’s author, Laura Koniver, MD (aka Intuition Physician) specifically references Frankl’s groundbreaking research. Dr. Koniver writes that “having a sense of purpose in life is medically proven to help your body stay younger.”

I would venture to guess that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the people who have a reason to get up each day are happier and less likely to suffer from depression. But, a recent study demonstrated that “the more meaning the participants reported in their life at the onset of the study, the stronger and more mobile they remained over the next 10 years of their life.”

Another study found that music therapy – using songs that are particularly meaningful to the patient – is one of the best ways to reconnect and communicate with patients suffering from all stages of dementia.

In other words, living a life of meaning not only improves your mental health, it increases your body’s resiliency and maintains its functionality over time!

So, how do we do that? How do we live a life of meaning? Dr. Koniver suggests several actions we can take NOW to make our day to day lives more meaningful:

  • Immerse yourself in nature
  • Use music
  • Get enough sleep
  • Practice gratitude and compassion
  • Exercise
  • Draw upon your support system
  • Explore spirituality/meditation/prayer
  • Engage in body work (yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, Reiki, etc.)

For more details on these and other holistic health practices, visit the Intuition Physician’s website. You can even work one-on-one with her if you are local to the Charleston area.

In love and gratitude…until next time!