‘He who has the Why to live for can bear almost any How’ Nietzche.
That was the answer given in Hitch hikers Guide to the Galaxy for the answer to life, the universe and everything. It’s a good answer that reflects the futility of trying to work out the meaning to our complex being here on earth.
Psychology has attempted to find its own solution to this question, or at least the substantial sub-heading which I would call ‘What Drives Human Life?’.
During my years of training I learnt how different theories explain this basic motivation or ‘drive’ behind the human condition that is the genesis of how we think, feel and behave.
Perhaps most well known is Freud’s Eros and Thanatos drives, the drives toward Life and Death, respectively, and sexual/ego drives. The common perception is that he believed everything we think or do is about sex (Cue pictures of trains going in tunnels and men smoking cigars!).
There are others that believe we are driven by different things, such the need to satisfy biological demands of hunger and thirst (Dollard and Miller) or the need for comfort and security (Harlow).
As an integrative therapist I have been able to draw my own conclusion, that we may be influenced by a combination of some or all of these drives, perhaps at different times. That each theory might have the potential to help my clients better understand their own unique experience of life.
Viktor Frankl’s book has been recommended to me by many people over the years. In it he lays out his own theory called Logo therapy, based upon mans need to find ‘meaning’ in his or her life.
Viktor was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. His book chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate which led him to discover the importance in finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal.
The book is split into two main sections. The first part is a factual account of his time in the camp which provides enough detail to illustrate his story without being gratuitous. In the second part he presents his theory using reference to the Holocaust experience to support his conclusions.
He presents a clear and moving account of how finding meaning in something, no matter how awful, can make our living with it easier. And he provides moving examples of where the absence of meaning can threaten our very existence.
In many ways, this is often what happens in therapy. A client will go over and over an event or period in their life, trying to understand what happened or how they feel about it. They feel unable to come to terms with what has happened and feel stuck with a sense of dis-ease. Until, one day, they are able to tell their story with a new understanding. A new appreciation and acceptance of the events and players involved. This fresh perspective may enable them to make peace with the past (or present) and have new choices for the future.
The narrative style is easy to follow and not just for students of psychological theories.
The book will resonate with anyone who has struggled to come to terms with something until they were able to make sense of what had happened in a way that was meaningful to them.