The Search for Meaning

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how

Friedrich Nietzsche

In 2011 I was fortunate enough to get a chance to travel to Berlin to celebrate the Valentine’s Day with my husband. Little did we know that we would return with a burden and baggage of an uncanny sentiment towards humanity in general and all that had been endured both physically and mentally by the mankind to frame the psychosomatic makeup of our collective being. We accidentally chose the daily tour for the ‘Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp’. With very little knowledge and history behind our choice, all we knew was this was something related to the Second World War and here goes nothing! Whatever I witnessed and imagined during the half-day tour in the chilling weather inside the camp was nothing ordinary. It was enough to feel a massive gratitude towards our blessed existence.


There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honour your calling; it is why you were born, and how you become most truly alive

Oprah Winfrey

Years later I’ve got hold of this legendary book “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Dr Viktor Frankl quoting the first hand experiences of his life in various concentration camps, everyday life of a prisoner, the tussle between hope and existence from psychiatry’s perspective. With every page that I turn, the feeling of gloom grows stronger yet I find solace in all the meaning and wisdom that every word echoes. It would only be worthwhile if I share this insight ahead for those who haven’t got a chance to visit a camp or read this beautiful memoir…I will try to attempt something bold here and merge Frankl’s philosophy with that of the Japanese ideology of our never ending search for a reason to exist.


The meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away

William Shakespeare


“Man’s search for meaning”…the very words that say it all! Japanese call it “Ikigai”, French have named it Raison d’être (Reason for being), the closest in Sanskrit being “Abhipraya”, that which becomes the reason to wake up each morning. Everyone has an Ikigai, as put by Frankl the camp life was so full of hardships and emotional turbulences that the basic reason for deaths was the loss of hope to return to former solace. These deaths increased between December and January since most of the prisoners had hoped to return home by Christmas or at least by the New Year. This intertwining of the hope and existence is something to ponder upon. As humans more than what we accomplish, we are driven more by what we CAN accomplish. Thinking about future is always comforting since it is seasoned with generous servings of hope and fulfilment. The moment this anticipation gets murky; our ikigai gets corrupted and sometimes severely damaged so much so that it leads to depression and lack of interest in living.




How to Find the Ikigai, the 4-step process

Here is an account from the book that Frankl mentions about two prisoners who wanted to commit suicide to escape the tyranny of the camp life just because they didn’t see their future as functional anymore…

Both men had talked of their intentions to commit suicide. Both used the typical argument- they had nothing more to expect from life. In both cased it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them. We found, in fact, that for the once it was his child whom he adored and who was waiting for him in a foreign country. For the other it was a thing not a person. This man was a scientist and had written a series of books which still needed to be finished. His work could not be done by anyone else, any more than another person could ever take the place of the father in his child’s affections…When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized; it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude

“Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl

Whether you didn’t get that promotion, or you just had a heart break; you lost your job or was abashedly yelled at by someone in public, missed that last bus and had to walk for miles, suffered immense loss in business or flunked that exam or job interview; This all seems petty in front of the larger meaning that our life has. All our lives we spend in soliciting what we want from our life, how we want it to shape, but we never really think what our life expects from us! Behind every fluke lies a reason, behind every failure lies a triumph, behind every suffering lies a meaning…if only we rise above the situation and ask what exactly is required from us to cross this phase and resurrect our Ikigai once more…


One of the oldest and most generous tricks that the Universe plays on human beings is to bury STRANGE JEWELS within us all, and then stand back to see if we can ever find them!

Elizabeth Gilbert

There is an infinite space between longing and living, hoping and having, thinking and thriving and in that space lies the scope to unearth our ikigai…our place to rest the search for meaning of life!


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