This is a book by Viktor E Frank, who is a psychologist from Vienna. He gets caught by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camps. He describes in detail his experiences at the camp. As a psychologist, he got to watch the way in which the thinking of people around him changed as they spent an indeterminate time at the camp. He shares a large number of stories of incidents that took place at the camp and how they helped him arrive at insights about suffering and hope. I am sharing some of the key ones that struck me from the book.
Happiness cannot be pursued but has to ensue. Much the same way that success cannot be pursued, it must ensue. Those who spend a lot of time pursuing happiness end up unhappy because it keeps eluding them.
You cannot control your circumstances. But whether you are free or not you always have control over your attitude. Even a person at a concentration camp can have a good attitude or a bad attitude about what was happening.
What you have experienced no force on the planet can take from you. What he learnt about psychology and what eventually made him successful were born out of the experiences that he endured at the concentration camp.
It is not about what you expect from life but what life expects from you. We all feel down and desperate when we feel that life is not delivering what we expect from it. But often, those are the moments when life expects something from you. To overcome that challenge so you could share it with someone in the future. There is a purpose to what you are going through, the challenge is to find the purpose.
He describes a patient, who comes to him and tells him about the grief he feels on the passing of his wife.
Viktor: What would have happened to your wife if you had passed instead of her?
Patient: I am sure she would have felt a lot of grief and suffered.
Viktor: In that case, are you not saving her from that suffering by having survived her.
Suffering is not a problem, but suffering needs to have meaning. Suffering for suffering’s sake is masochism. But suffering when done for a purpose is valuable.
Mental health is about the tension between what man has achieved and what man ought to achieve or the remaining purpose. People who feel that they have achieved all that they have to and do not have much to look forward to. They end up having mental breakdowns because they do not see any more purpose in their life. Their life merely turns into existence.