Logotherapy: Living a Meaningful Life

29 December, 2020
In a chaotic world, living a meaningful life is the key to good mental health. It's also the foundation of a therapy created by neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.

Living a meaningful life doesn’t mean orienting your entire existence towards the search for your own happiness. Instead, it’s about finding a purpose and working towards it. Above all, it’s about feeling good about who you are, what you have, and everything around you, no more and no less. However, in the rush of day-to-day life, it’s hard to focus your mind, heart, and gaze towards an existential goal when what you encounter more often is meaningless.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to get overwhelmed by the worries and negativity triggered by stress and anxiety. How are you supposed to find meaning in your life when that’s taking up all your energy? It’s complicated, no doubt about that. However, as famous psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said, the meaning of life is simply the art of knowing how to live in yourself.

This is the key to psychological well-being: working on your inner harmony and balance. This involves developing good self-knowledge and applying the basic tenants of Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy.

Let’s delve right in.

A man sitting on a mountain.

Logotherapy: learning to find meaning

Most people don’t think about the meaning of life unless they’re dealing with adversity. That’s when you start asking yourself classic existential questions such as, “Why is this happening to me and what does it all mean?” Finding meaning even when everything’s going bad and fate seems to be against you is one of the most transcendental human behaviors.

Stoicism, a philosophical school of thought founded by Zeno of Citium in 301 BC, proposed that, to be happy, you have to accept things exactly as they are. That’s a nice thought. But is it possible? How can you achieve that? It’s often extremely difficult to make peace with your circumstances. More often than not, we resist, get angry, and suffer due to what we’ve lost.

Irvin David Yalom, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University, explains that learning to live a meaningful life takes time to achieve. At some point, you take the necessary step towards introspection to connect with your needs and figure out what’s truly relevant and important for you.

Sooner or later, you’ll realize that life isn’t a problem you have to solve but rather a mystery you have to accept.

What does it mean to live a meaningful life?

Viktor Frankl was one of the foremost experts on the subject of living a meaningful life. So much so that he used it as the foundation of the therapeutic approach he developed for working with patients. He called it logotherapy. Frankl argued that the desire to find existential meaning is a need that everyone feels at some point. Doing so, clarifying what a meaningful life is to you, provides support during tough times.

  • Firstly, it’s important to understand that everyone has their own definition of what it is to live a meaningful life. It’s unique to each individual, and it also changes over time. Your circumstance and goals tend to vary throughout the years.
  • This search is also a source of motivation. Every time you ask yourself What’s the most important thing for me right now?” or “What gives me meaning and purpose?“, you focus your attention on exploring your authentic self. This is an exercise in self-knowledge.
  • Living a meaningful life also involves valuing your past and present experience. It means finding harmony between what’s always been important for you (your values) and what you want out of life (your dreams).

This exercise is important for your psychological health. That’s because, when you have some clarity about it, it gives you a reason to live, get up every morning, and something to believe in, fight for, and dream about.

A woman looking out at the ocean living a meaningful life.

Viktor Frankl’s legacy: logotherapy

Viktor Frankl is famous for two reasons: having survived two concentration camps during World War II and his book Man’s Search for Meaning. He was a renowned psychiatry professor who wrote more than 30 books and gave about 210 lectures in nearly every university in the world.

A special highlight of his legacy is logotherapy, a kind of therapy that was part of the third school of Viennese therapy after Freud’s psychoanalysis. The engine that gives shape and purpose to this psychological approach is to help people live meaningful lives. This is how he helped his patients achieve that goal.

You have a body, mind, and “soul”

Viktor Frankl’s therapy wasn’t religious in any way. The concept of a “soul” was a way to talk about a person’s authentic essence. He believed that everyone has a body, a mind, and a soul that contains their life story. It’s that part of you that holds your voice, values, and personality. One of your purposes is to create harmony between these three elements of who you are.

All of your experiences, good or bad, are meaningful

Everything you go through in your life means something. Your goal is to identify what that is. Happiness, uncertainty, adversity, passion, peace, fear… Try to figure out how you can learn from every moment.

You’re free to change the course of your life based on what gives you meaning

Sometimes, you probably feel trapped by your circumstances. If someone leaves you and you feel alone. Losing a job during a difficult and uncertain time in your life. While these things are happening, you’re free to take whatever path you feel gives your life purpose. Only then will you achieve well-being.

Living a meaningful life means committing yourself to following whatever motivates you in dark times. The world around you is too chaotic to let yourself drift too far from who you really are.

  • Frankl V (1994). El hombre en busca de sentido, Herder, Barcelona.
  • Frankl V (1991). A pesar de todo, decir sí a la vida. Herder, Barcelona, 
  • Frankl V (2002). Psicoanálisis y existencialismo. Herder.