I was just looking through my collection of quotes (I read a lot of ebooks, and highlight/annotate them like crazy) and thought I would share my favorite psychological paradigm: existential analysis.  I get to ramble about something I love, and you get to learn something most people outside of psychology haven’t heard of.

The Will to Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl is the only psychology book I’ve ever read multiple times.  Frankl was the creator of Logotherapy, which was the first existential psychology.  It’s not a set of therapeutic techniques, but rather a mindset therapists can put themselves in and share with their clients.  He developed it in the 1940s as a reaction to Freudian psychoanalysis, and it drew heavily on his years in German concentration camps.  It’s rather beautiful.  It says, in part, that life is about striving to attain meaningful goals.  And if you meet those goals, set new ones.  The important part is that actively working towards something you feel is important, to both you and the world around you.  The very act of striving brings happiness and a deep sense of fulfillment.  Anything else is stagnation, which breeds discontent.  You probably know the feeling, at least a little.  You reach a goal, and suddenly there’s a sense of being rudderless: “what do I do now?” Everyone needs a sense of purpose to carry them.  Those who feel they have no purpose tend to be miserable.  People who have gotten everything they want in life tend to get bored after a while.  The only solution is to find a new purpose, a new goal.  Something that makes one engage with the world, because we are all stuck on this rock together and isolating ourselves isn’t healthy.

Logotherapy has three “pillars.”  Here’s a summary.

1. Freedom of Will.  Each of us has the freedom to decide how to respond to events in our lives.  Even if we can’t control those events, we have the freedom to choose how we react to them.

2. Will to Meaning.  We all need to find some meaning in our lives.  We have the freedom to set meaningful goals and strive to attain them.

3. Meaning in Life.  We have to be open and flexible so that we can take meaning from every moment in life.  Those meanings will change, because existence itself means change.

Existential analysis is a way to help people find the meaning they crave, and deal with what’s standing in the way of one’s goals.  It also helps people figure out how they want to respond to life events.  A lot of modern therapists use an existentialist slant when counseling clients, regardless of their preferred techniques for therapy.  To me it’s pretty obvious why.  It’s a solid philosophy.

Hopefully I’ve explained it well.  The Will to Meaning was a bestseller in the 1950s, but hardly anyone outside of psychology students reads him today.  Which is a damn shame.  What he said then applies as much to our present.  Check it out.


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