Viktor Frankl is trying to find the meaning of life. More specifically, he wants to define why we keep persevering when tragedy arises. Tragic optimism is his answer; “to face death, guilt, and pain with understanding and positivity,” (Frankl 1). When life gets us down, it often comes from a feeling of meaninglessness, but Frankl knows that there is meaning in every situation, even the most miserable. He thinks that meaninglessness is just a thought process, “we have enough to live by, but not enough to live for,” (Frankl 2). It is in our response to the hardships, the hardship itself, and the attitude we employ, where meaning is found.
Without suffering, there is no growth. Overcoming what Frankl defines as the, “tragic triad”: pain, guilt, and death, requires the right mentality. We are not responsible for what nature brings to our life, only our reactions to it. To live a life obsessed over what is not in our control is no life at all. To view death as a reason for life allows us to make the best possible use of each moment of our lives. “Live as you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you were about to act now,” (Frankl 7).
Our struggle to find meaning is apparent in our pity for the elderly. Instead of thinking of the lack of possibilities and opportunities of the future, think of the realities of their past. “The potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, and the values they have realized,” (Frankl 7). This example ties to Frankl’s thesis expertly. With a change of mindset, the meanings of our experiences change. Frankl says that for the youth, the reason for their being is the possibilities of the future, and for the elderly it is for the assets from the past. Our usefulness isn’t dictated by our current state. Time is just a distance, to view the old as less valuable is to blur the lines of value from dignity and value from usefulness. What we once were may be no more, but it doesn’t take away the fact that we once were. To give more value to those who may be but have never been, is a mistake.
I’ve come to understand that we are in constant search of a reason for action, existence, and meaning. We search for it in comparisons and through the actualization of beliefs. Meaninglessness comes from doubting that there is a reason at all. We ask, “what is the point of doing anything if we are all going to die anyway?” In the asking of the question, lies the answer. The question is the answer. The purpose of life is to ask the question. Our humanity comes from the asking in itself. We are not searching for happiness; instead a reason to be happy. Whether it be creation, experience, or attitude, we must do everything in our power to face tragedy with optimism.
Frankl, Viktor E. “The Case for a Tragic Optimism” (postscript to Man’s Search for Meaning).
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984.