Viktor Frankl on the “Will to Meaning”: an introduction to self-care

Viktor-Frankl“I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium… a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” –Viktor Frankl

Frankl taught that instead of a “will to pleasure” (Freud), or a “will to power” (Nietzsche), what a person actually needs for a fulfilling life is the “will to meaning.”

Frankl goes on the teach that the will to pleasure and the will to power are compensations for the will to meaning; and they manifest themselves in many forms, the most common being sex, drugs, and rock and roll (for the former) and the pursuit of money (for the latter).

Why does the will to meaning typically get drowned out by these compensations? Because they represent the path of least resistance (and nature tends toward this path).

viktorfranklThe peace and happiness that ensue from a meaningful existence are always mixed with struggle and pain—indeed are founded on such. There is nothing instant about the will to meaning’s satisfaction, since it is the sort of satisfaction that lasts. The will to pleasure and the will to power represent instant satisfaction, but the sort that runs off as quickly as it arrives.

Self-care, if it can be properly called such, must not be pursued via the will to pleasure or the will to power if it is to be a healthy and lasting care; otherwise it runs the strong risk of becoming merely one more means of a long-term neurosis. Self-care’s main focus must not be to abolish tension (which, say, something like alcohol is momentarily excellent at), but rather focused on something which fits the actual human mode of existence, which is anything but tensionless.

In articles to follow I will attempt to venture down the path of the will to meaning in a pedagogic fashion that I hope would make folks like Viktor Frankl proud. Asking what is the best method of self-care is a bit like asking a pro kickboxer, ‘what is the best strike?’ Truth is there isn’t one. The best attack is the one that fits the situation one finds oneself in, and the same is true for self-care. How do you best attack depression, anxiety, loneliness, fear, etc., depends on your constitution and your situation (among other things}.

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