Sunday Self-Scaler 2
5 life lessons from a Holocaust survivor, the books I am reading, and a Stoic exercise to better deal with suffering.
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who survived the Holocaust — a terrifying genocide during World War II where the Nazis murdered around six million jews.
He soon went on to write his masterpiece, “Man’s Search For Meaning” where he chronicles his suffering in the Nazi concentration camps and expounds on the importance of purpose for a happy life.
It’s the kind of book that challenges your perspective and makes you question everything. Compared to the adversities he had to face, my life problems seemed insignificant.
I want to share five insightful lessons from Viktor Frankl that have helped me and hopefully you to lead a much happier and more fulfilling life.
You Choose Your Own Attitude
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
— Viktor Frankl
Unfortunately, we can’t always control our circumstances. Adversity can hit hard when we least expect it to.
But one thing that we can always control is our attitude or response towards such circumstances.
Frankl met with one of the worst fates imaginable — stripped of his freedom, shoved into extremely harsh living conditions surrounded by death, and at risk of dying himself.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity and loathing life, he chose to find meaning in his suffering which allowed him to physically and mentally survive the horrendous conditions.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
With this attitude, he could appreciate things like a larger ration of bread, a day of lesser work, a piece of wire to mend his torn shoe, and a few peas in the otherwise watery daily soup instead of cursing his horrid living conditions.
When you modify the stance you take in the face of unchangeable suffering to look at the positives, you will be able to overcome it.
Find Meaning and Have a Sense of Purpose
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
— Viktor Frankl
When faced with adversity, it is easy to fall victim to the belief of the utter meaninglessness of life just like I did when I was bullied in middle school.
I drowned in self-loathing, my self-esteem had hit rock bottom and I even contemplated suicide a few times back then.
Only when I started working out did I start to feel truly happy.
Unbeknownst to me, I had developed a sense of purpose!
Compared to what Frankl and the other prisoners had to endure, my suffering was nothing.
Under the harsh conditions, most of the prisoners broke mentally, found life utterly meaningless, and looked for ways to take their own lives.
Frankl made it his purpose to prevent such suicides by helping the other prisoners find their own purpose.
The thought of making it out alive, reuniting with his loved ones, and telling his tale instilled meaning in his suffering.
Armed with meaning and purpose, Frankl persevered.
“Those who have a why to live, can bear with almost any how”
Strive to find meaning and develop a sense of purpose to overcome any challenge or hard times you encounter in life.
Live as If You Have Been Granted a Second Life
“Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.”
— Viktor Frankl
I am deeply embarrassed by the people I used to hang out with, the kind of person I was, and the mistakes I have made in the past.
This is actually a good thing as it means that I have changed for the better.
We all make mistakes in life and that is okay. What isn’t okay is repeating a mistake.
“A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.”
Instead of fretting over the past which we cannot change, wouldn’t it be better to focus on the present which is in our control?
We can think of the present as a second life where we can be and act better than the past or our first life.
Learn from your mistakes, let go of the person you were, and embrace the person you want to be.
Love Is a Powerful Force
“Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.”
― Viktor E. Frankl
When Frankl was on the brink of sanity, the thought of his wife, his love for her and the possibility of seeing her again saved him.
She was in a different camp and Frankl would have imaginary conversations with her every night.
Unfortunately, after the war, Frankl found out that she hadn’t survived.
This sad story teaches us something profound — Love is a mighty force that can get you through the hardest times.
Love isn’t limited to just a human being, it can be for something you do too!
When I suffered from depression, my love for working out was a beacon of light that guided me out of the expanse of darkness.
The heart is a powerful thing that can get you going when the other things fail.
You Decide the Meaning of Your Life
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
— Viktor Frankl
We constantly ponder the meaning of life but Frankl says that it is actually the other way round — Life is asking us its meaning!
This is a profound idea as it means that you get to find or decide the meaning of your life — Frankl even goes out on a limb to say that you are responsible for the meaning of your life.
As a prisoner, Frankl found meaning in the love for his wife and helping the other prisoners find their own meaning,
As a psychiatrist, Frankl found meaning by dedicating himself to the development of Logotherapy — a school of psychotherapy based on the belief that humans are strongly motivated to live purposefully and meaningfully.
Through having a sense of purpose, love, and choosing a modified attitude towards inevitable suffering, you can truly find meaning in life.
The Books I Am Reading
So, the past week, I have been pretty erratic and have been bouncing to and fro different books but damn, are they good ones! Here are the three I spent most of the time reading:
The Denial Of Death by Ernest Becker
I just started this and this was recommended to me by a friend. So far, the ideas are powerful and intriguing. But if you want my opinion as to whether or not it is a must-read, you’ll have to stay patient till the next self-scaler. Definitely check out the Goodreads reviews and get started if you feel like you’ll enjoy it.
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
I recently finished this book and to be honest, didn’t quite like it as much I wanted to. Even if you are a literary fiction enthusiast like me, you will find it a bit tedious and with a lot of unnecessary fluff.
Fyodor’s characters are deep, by deep, I mean depths that we can’t even imagine. But in this, I think he took it too far. When a character gets too deep, he/she becomes an utter hypocrite and that’s exactly what happened here.
I would suggest reading Crime and Punishment first and only if you really like it, consider this book.
Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes
This one is a work long in progress. I have been reading this 1000+ page behemoth in snatches for quite some time. It’s again literary fiction and well, it is hilarious for one, absolutely hilarious, so much so that you can’t help but feel a sense of respect for the main character. Don Quixote is deluded, so much so that his delusion has become reality. In his head, he is a knight roaming around the world to undo its wrongs.
It’s enchanting how our deluded hero goes on his adventures or rather misadventures with a zeal very few of us possess. All in all, it’s a fun read in a “few-minutes-here-and-there-in-a-day” way and by no means, a binge.
What are you reading? Lemme know
A Stoic Exercise to Better Deal with Suffering
Seneca, the popular Stoic philosopher of erstwhile advocated a concept called “Voluntary discomfort” - basically putting yourself in discomfort on purpose.
The purpose of this was simple - in life, suffering is inevitable and we are much more privileged than we realize. Most of us have enough food to eat, water to drink, people to love, and a roof over our heads. These might seem commonplace but most lack these.
Since adversity can strike anytime, it’s better if we prepare ourselves for it. This is exactly where voluntary discomfort comes in. Seneca, a wealthy merchant did this by spending a few days every month in abject poverty. He would eat little to no food, sleep on the floor and wear tattered clothes.
You don’t have to do anything as drastic as that. Just take one aspect of your life and do something that you find uncomfortable. If you love ice cream, abstain from it. If you cannot sleep without a pillow, do exactly that. If you find it hard to start a conversation with someone, try doing that.
I personally am doing this by taking cold showers, going harder on my workouts precisely when I feel like giving up, and practicing abstinence from porn and masturbation.
In what way are you going to subject yourself to voluntary discomfort? Lemme know
Phew! That was long, wasn’t it. Well, it took quite some effort to put together. After last week’s barebones self-scaler, I knew I HAD to make this one good so I tried to pack as much value as I could into this.
That’s all for this week’s self scaler guys! Cya in the next one!
Before going, lemme know if you enjoyed this and also what you would like to see improved/ added/ removed. This newsletter is all about the readers and if I can change something to make it better, I would do so gladly :)
Dude ive been wanting to read Don Quixote for ages, i think i’m going to read it next.