There is much we can proactively do to create a personal and professional life that is abundant, meaningful, and filled with positive aspects. But sometimes… bad things just happen. Even the most positive, hardworking, honest people will likely experience pain and suffering at some point in their life.
The death of a loved one, an unexpected divorce or financial crisis, the loss of a job or home… experiences like these can cause people who are generally strong and positive to feel temporarily negative and miserable and, in the worst cases, broken, devastated, or defeated for a prolonged period of time. But most of us will never have to endure true and sustained horrors like the famous Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, who survived the Nazi Holocaust and later went on to write his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning.
I recently listened to a podcast interview with Jon Gordon and Don Miller. In it, Don recounted Viktor Frankl’s three points for creating a meaningful life. Frankl believed we must have:
1) A project that demands our attention
2) A redemptive perspective on our suffering
3) And a community of people with which to share it
All three resonated with me in terms of my own fulfillment and resiliency, but, in particular, the idea of developing a “redemptive perspective on our suffering” stood out for me. In other words, we won’t always be able to avoid pain and suffering in our lives, but when we give our pain a meaningful context, our experience of it changes.
Case in point: A young man I know has asked, “Out of all my friends, why did I have to be the one who became addicted to drugs and is destined to fight this fight for the rest of my life?” He wishes he did not have this suffering in his life at all. But when he changes the context for his pain, his experience of it changes: “Maybe by my experiencing this addiction and finding ways to conquer it, I’m equipped now to help others down the road of their own recovery or maybe even to help prevent them ever getting on this road to begin with?” He could just as easily recontextualize it as having learned things that others have not, met important people through the experience or even become someone who he would not have been otherwise.
I believe Frankl is correct in the idea that we create more meaning in our life when we stop trying to avoid pain and instead develop a redemptive perspective by recontextualizing it. Give it a new story, and it takes on a new meaning.
One of my all-time favorite quotes by Dr. Sue Morter puts it even more simply: “Life is hard, until it isn’t. Everything eventually serves.”