Meaning of Life

meaning of lifeThere is no universal meaning of life but it is possible to discover meaning in life and to give meaning to life and work. To ask “what is the meaning of life” assumes an expectation from life, where in fact, it is life that is asking us the questions, so we should be asking “what does life expect of us”?

By 1929 Viktor Frankl identified three possible ways to find meaning in life and by 1933 had systemized his ideas to some extent considering that he had developed the concept of three groups of values, three possible and principle ways to find meaning in life – even “up to its very last moment” (Frankl, 1967, p. 25)[i]. These form an important part of Frankl’s theory of meaning and values (Frankl, 2004, p. Xv)[ii].

He classified them in to three chief groups in terms of creative, experiential and attitudinal values (Frankl, 1970, p. 70)[iii].

The first is what he gives to the world in terms of his creations; the second is what he takes from the world in terms of encounters and experiences; and the third is the stand he takes to his predicament in case he must face a fate which he cannot change (Frankl, 1970, p. 70)[iv].

This is why life never ceases to hold a meaning, for even a person who is deprived of both creative and experiential values is still challenged by a meaning to fulfil, that is, by the meaning inherent in an upright way of suffering.

People in projects can benefit from understanding what values are and the part they play in identifying and creating meaning. In terms of what core team members value in becoming part of the project team, it is imperative that project leaders identify this with them and then help those team members attain personal value through the work that they do.

In addition, for the leaders themselves, there is knowledge in understanding how creative, experiential and attitudinal values can make them become more complete project managers of temporary teams.

Frankl was influenced by Max Scheller’s hierarchical order of values who suggested that “valuing implicitly means preferring one value to another and that the rank of a value is experienced together with the value itself. In other words, the experience of one value includes the experience that it ranks higher than another” (Frankl, 1970, p.57)[v].

That is finding meaning ‘in’ life as opposed to finding a meaning ‘of’ life is an important distinction and differentiator for logotherapy as the meaning of life must be conceived of in terms of the specific meaning of a personal life in a given situation.

th (8)Picture1As each person is unique and irreplaceable, their life is not repeatable and this twofold uniqueness adds to the level of responsibleness derived from the logotherapeutic belief that it is life that is asking us the questions and we must answer to life by being responsible, by making decisions, by deciding which answers to give to the individual questions (Frankl, 1967, p. 27)[vi].

This is why the experience of the hierarchical order of values does not “dispense man from decision making as man is pushed by drives but he is pulled by values. He is always free to accept or to reject a value he is offered by a situation” (Frankl, 1970, p. 57)[vii].

It is also why project teams can view their assignments as asking them the questions rather than the team asking of project management what they expect of it. especially in a world full of ambiguity and uncertainty. What is expected of persons here is that they do their best, in spite of life’s trials and tribulations described by Frankl as life’s tragic triad of human existence – pain, guilt and death.

In doing ones best people must strive to give meaning and find meaning in their lives despite being surrounded by the tragic triad. To say “yes to life in spite of everything” (Frankl, 2004, p. 139)[viii], means what matters is to make the best of any given situation.

In Latin the best is called optimum so Logotherapy speaks of the case for a “tragic optimism” (Frankl, 2004, p. 137)[ix]. The optimistic approach that logotherapy takes to life teaches that there are no tragic and negative aspects which could not be, by the stand one takes to them, “transmuted in to positive accomplishments” (Frankl, 1970, p. 73)[x].

However, there is a difference between the attitude one chooses to pain and guilt as in pain, one takes a stand to ones fate, otherwise suffering would not yield meaning, while in the case of guilt, the stand one takes is a stand to one’s self. More importantly, fate cannot be changed otherwise it would not be fate, but “man may well change himself, otherwise he would not be a man.

It is a prerogative of being human and a constituent of human existence, to be capable of shaping and reshaping oneself. In other words it is privilege of man to become guilty and his responsibility to overcome guilt” (Frankl, 1970, p.73)[xi].

For people in business and projects, to understand this maxim is almost of survival quality and a significant motivator. For them to think no matter how difficult a situation may be, the decision is theirs in how they chose to react and in doing so, shape and reshape themselves through creating attitudinal, experiential and creative values.

While no logotherapist prescribes a meaning he may well describe it (Frankl, 1967, p. 24)[xii]. By this Frankl means describing what is going on in a person when they experience something as meaningful , from a phenomenological perspective understood by Frankl as “speaking the language of mans pre-reflective self understanding, rather than interpreting a given phenomenon after pre conceived patterns” (Frankl, 2004, p. Xii)[xiii].

This approach is important as it shows there are more than a few ways to find meaning in life as discussed above through creative values that we create and give to the world in a deed that we do, a work we create, in what we receive from the world by experiencing a human encounter, a love, truth or beauty in nature, music, art and when confronted with an unchangeable fate such as an incurable disease, we are free to choose and change our attitude toward that fate (Frankl, 2000, p. 64)[xiv] by accessing the noological dimension.

In daring to go in to the human dimension logotherapy can incorporate the specifically human phenomena that it encounters there in to its therapeutic techniques, resources such as the uniquely human capacities of self-transcendence and self distancing, two fundamental anthropological characteristics of human existence, which distinguish human existence, precisely as human (Frankl, 2004, p.4)[xv] .

To understand these capacities better they should be seen in context of the therapeutic techniques that unblock access to them.

There are three main techniques, being Paradoxical Intention that makes use of the human capacity of self distancing, indicated when neuroses arise from a person’s fight against their symptoms or flight from their symptoms.  De-reflection makes use of the human capacity of self-transcendence. This technique is indicated when neuroses arise from the persons fight for some positive state.

The Common Denominator is the third technique indicated when neuroses arise from a person in search for an answer to their dilemma around decision.

There is a relevant case study that explains this technique where the common denominator became the question for me in 2015. I was struggling to complete my thesis and develop the business at the same time, so I had to identify, which out of my work or my academic studies would become more at risk if interrupted? I arrived at the conclusion that it was less of a problem to interrupt my work than to postpone the completion of my studies, in that I felt I would not get back to my academic studies, should work increase in demand.

[i] Frankl, Viktor. Psychotherapy & Existentialism. USA, Penguin Books, 1967

[ii] Frankl, Viktor. On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders. UK, Brunner-Routledge, 2004

[iii] Frankl, Viktor. The Will to Meaning. USA, Penguin Books, 1970

[iv] Frankl, Viktor. The Will to Meaning. USA, Penguin Books, 1970

[v] Frankl, Viktor. The Will to Meaning. USA, Penguin Books, 1970

[vi] Frankl, Viktor. On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders. UK, Brunner-Routledge, 2004

[vii] Frankl, Viktor. The Will to Meaning. USA, Penguin Books, 1970

[viii] Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning. UK, Ebury Publishing, 2004.

[ix] Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning. UK, Ebury Publishing, 2004.

[x] Frankl, Viktor. The Will to Meaning. USA, Penguin Books, 1970

[xi] Frankl, Viktor. The Will to Meaning. USA, Penguin Books, 1970

[xii] Frankl, Viktor. Psychotherapy & Existentialism. USA, Penguin Books, 1967

[xiii] Frankl, Viktor. On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders. UK, Brunner-Routledge, 2004

[xiv] Frankl, Viktor. Recollections. USA, Basic Books, 2000.

[xv] Frankl, Viktor. On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders. UK, Brunner-Routledge, 2004