Pleasure or Meaning?

A few weeks ago I finished a fascinating book called “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. I remember reading parts of it in college but I’m so glad that I picked it up again. I also just finished another book called “Scary Close” by Donald Miller. Miller’s book is about the importance of authenticity and vulnerability in our relationships. About half way through the book, Miller referenced Frankl. Coincidence maybe or maybe God is trying to get my attention. Either way, I found what Frankl had to say to be profound.

Frankl was a Viennese survivor of Nazi captivity during WWII. He suffered all kinds of things at the hands of the Germans. By training he was psychiatrist and was a contemporary of Freud. What differentiated them, though, was Freud said that one of the primary desires of people was for pleasure, that they got up every morning and sought a comfortable or enjoyable life. Frankl contended with him, saying what people really wanted was a deep experience of meaning. They wake up wanting to feel a sense of gratitude for the experience they are having, and a sense of purpose, mission, and belonging.

Frankl was saying that people only sought pleasure when they couldn’t find meaning. If a person has no sense of meaning, Frankl argued, he will numb himself with pleasure. Numb himself. With pleasure. Been there. Done that. Lust. Materialism. Greed. Ambition. They feel good for a while but the numbness always came back.

From his years of psychiatry but even more from his captivity, Frankl develops a prescription to experience a deep sense of meaning in life. He had three recommendations:

  1. Have a project to work on, some reason to get out of bed in the morning and preferably something that serves other people.
  2. Have a redemptive perspective on life’s challenges. That is, when something difficult happens, recognize the ways that difficulty also serves you.
  3. Share your life with a person or people who love you unconditionally.

After surviving WWII, Frankl was put in charge of the mental health division of the Viennese hospital system because they had lost far too many patients to suicide. When Frankl came aboard, he had more than thirty thousand suicidal patients under his care. The challenge was phenomenal. Frankl created community groups for the patients and taught counselors to identify projects the patients could contribute to, serious work the world needed that would give them a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Frankl also had the patients identify the difficult experiences they’d had and while allowing them to grieve, also asked them to list benefits that had come from their pain. The result of the program was transformational. Not one patient committed suicide on Frankl’s watch.

Pleasure or meaning? The things of this world or the Kingdom of God?

In John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples and for us. He prays that we would love each other. He prays that we would embrace a mission to teach other people to create communities that love each other. But he is not just calling us into a life of sacrifice. He is calling us into a life of meaning because he knows that people on a mission don’t have time for fleeting pleasures.

Other Posts You Might Like:

With Spiritual Eyes - Edy Tercero

Don’t Forget Our Mary - Ross Thomson

Harvest Sunday – Doubt and Faith - Don Compton

A Blessed Transition - Beau Davis

Come with me and rest - Nidia Badillo



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