1.2 Meaning & Purpose (Viktor Frankl)

Writing assignment

Go to a blank page in your composition book, at the top of the page, write, "Stoic Daily Exercises [and then the number on the upper right side of the maxim below]. Then, in 5 to 10 minutes, quickly write the following:

  1. What does it literally mean (that is how would you state it in your own words);
  2. How do you feel when you read it, and why you feel that way (you'll learn that our decisions are made by our feelings, --so, it's important to recognize our feelings);
  3. Whether you will adopt it as a personal maxim (moral rule) and how:


Pippa’s Song

Robert Browning (1812–1889)

The year’s in the spring

The day’s in the morn

Morning’s at seven

The hill side’s dew pearled

The lark’s on the wing

The snail’s on the thorn

God’s in His heaven

All’s right with the world.

Daily Introduction

I will start by asking myself how I feel right now, and then how I feel about getting today’s work done.  I will try to notice the little voice in my head. I will turn negative thoughts into empowering thoughts.

Next, I will quickly review all my notes.  I know that I must get this information into my unconscious brain and memorize the definitions of success, and power.  I will think about the 2 Questions. (N.B. discipline and repetition are is the keys to turning conscious beliefs into unconscious behavior).

Then I will read, and re-read the transcript of Viktor Frankl’s video.  In addition to writing my answers to the 2 Questions in my book, I need to understand the following:

  1. Viktor Frankl had a unique perspective on living through tough, dire circumstances (i.e. a concentration camp);
  2. As a psychiatrist, we was also qualified to understand how life in a concentration camp affects people’s minds;
  3. He observed that some people lived and some people died; and that those who died either died because they were sent to the gas chambers, they were beaten to death, they got sick or they committed suicide;
  4. He also observed that those who lived almost always had something in common, a reason to live, a vision of the future that they wanted to be alive for;
  5. He concluded that in order to be complete, we must have meaning and purpose in our life, and that for most, life is a search for meaning, not money or material goods.

Once I’ve watched and made notes, I will review the memorized and yet-to-memorize poems and then work on today’s memorization.  I will become aware of my feelings (frustration, excitement, etc.) and imagine how I will feel once I’ve memorized today’s poems.  

Viktor Frankl - Search for meaning

Viktor Frankl Man's Search for Meaning (animation)


So I remember watching the movie The Pursuit of Happiness a long, long time ago, and I just thought it was so beautiful. I couldn't stop crying. I was so amazed. And then a few months ago, my girlfriend and I wanted to watch a movie, and we decided that's what we were going to watch. And this time, I thought it was the dumbest thing I had ever seen and yet another stupid lesson from Hollywood.

This is a really famous movie, but just in case you haven't seen it, let me recap it for you. So this guy's really poor and going through all this adversity, but he has a chance of one day becoming a stockbroker. And the entire movie basically shows him constantly worried, constantly stressed, constantly pissed off and negative, constantly yelling and getting into fights with his wife, but one day he might become a stockbroker and finally attain happiness. I guess Hollywood's version of happiness is one day being a stockbroker. And at the end of the movie, of course he gets the job, and he has now successfully pursued and attained happiness.

Now, there are so many things wrong with that, but let's start with this one. It's weird that someone would even try to pursue happiness, because happiness cannot be pursued. It's not like a degree that you pursue for four years and then you finally get it and can keep it for the rest of your life. It's more like a birth certificate that just comes with you. It's in your house, you just have to find it. It doesn't depend on how big or small your house, it's in there. So my first favorite idea from the book is, Happiness cannot be pursued. And to keep this from getting esoteric, let me tell you a story.

So I remember when I was about seven or eight, my parents left me with my grandma and we never really had food at home. And I don't mean that in the western sense of there's nothing that I like in the fridge. No it was like, there's nothing in the fridge that can be consumed as calories. And my grandma's only source of income was her pension. And I remember it was 13 Lari, which is about $6 or $7, and sometimes they wouldn't even bring her that. Now, there was also a little bakery at the end of the street. And they had this little pastry that I really really liked. And it cost 20 tetri, which is about 10 cents. But most of the time, I didn't have money to go buy it. So I was out on the street a lot with other kids, and I soon figured out that there was this lemonade store. And they'd give you 5 tetri if you brought them an empty lemonade bottle. And I remember I'd wake up every day and I would go looking for bottles on the streets. Now it was pretty hard to find those bottles, but if I found four bottles that would mean I could bring them to the lemonade store and get 20 tetri for them. And I remember how I was just the happiest kid alive. Every time I found a bottle, it was like the happiest moment of my life. Every time I went to the lemonade store and collected my 20 tetri, it was an unbelievable feeling. And finally I would go to the little pastry store, and I would buy my little 20 tetri pastry. And I would sit out on the sidewalk and just enjoy it. And it was supposed to have raisins in it, but since it was so cheap, they only put a few of them in there. And I remember the occasional raisin bite and how I felt like the happiest kid alive.

Now contrast that to today. There have been times where I'm eating a $100 steak and I'm pissed off and unhappy because I ordered a medium well but this looks more like a medium. My night is now officially ruined, guys. I'm going to be negative for the rest of the night. Now, I'm not here to tell you that the stale, bland, 10 cent pastry is better than a $100 steak. I have a preference for the steak. There's nothing wrong with improving your life and being able to experience more. But that's all it is. Just the ability to experience more.

What I will guarantee you is that you either cultivate the ability to be happy and are able to be completely happy where you are right now, or I promise you there's absolutely nothing around you that you can chase to attain happiness. Going from a 10 cent pastry to a $100 steak is like going from having to take the bus to owning a Ferrari. Now I'm going to say this again. Yes, it's okay if your preference is driving a Ferrari over taking the bus. But remember, all that does is just let you experience more. That's it. So you're either happy on the bus right now just like you'll be happy when you have the Ferrari. Or you aren't happy on the bus right now and you won't be happy in the Ferrari.

And you know, I look at my life right now, which is really really good. But I also think of what it's going to be like in 5 years. And in 5 years, the quality of my life is going to be a hundred times better than what it is right now. It'll literally be like going from the 10 cent pastry to a $100 steak all over again. But I have to keep reminding myself that I'm either going to be completely happy with that pastry right now just as I'll be completely happy with the $100 steak in five years. Or, I'm not going to be happy right now, and I'm not going to be happy in five years.

My second favorite idea is that there's a stimulus, which is what happens to you, which you can't control. And then there's a response, which is what you do about it, which you have full control over. But we treat the response like we have no control over it. It's just completely automatic for most people. Something bad happens to you, you automatically get pissed off. But the reality is, you don't have to. You have complete control over it. Doesn't matter what kind of stimulus you're presented with, no one can ever take away the ability for you to choose whatever response you like.

So let's say you're in the kitchen, and you break a bunch of new plates that you just bought. Now what's the automatic, natural reaction? Getting pissed off, right? You have to clean it up now. Plus you broke a bunch of plates that you just bought. Or, what could be your other response? Cool, it's just a bunch of plates. It's not a big deal. It's actually great because it's giving me an opportunity to not get pissed off by the stupidest little things. Like, you can have gratitude for breaking the plates and having the opportunity to practice your virtue. Remember you can pick whatever response you like. It's all up to you. Someone puts you down? Great! You're one step closer to not caring about what people think of you. Or, you can go home and cry about it. It's all up to you.

All the kids I grew up with, including myself, went through a lot of adversity. You know what happened to most of them? They turned into alcoholics and drug addicts. You know what their excuse is? "I had to see my dad beat my mom. My parents never had time to take care of me. I was so poor, I had no opportunity." You know what my reason is for the very humble accomplishments I have at 22-years-old? The exact same thing. There's no way most people are going to have the same work ethic as me. Most people don't know what it's like to be seven and out on the street collecting dirty bottles so you can feed yourself. They just won't be able to compete with me, I'm sorry. And I'm so thankful for every bullsh*t experience I've had, and I wouldn't change a single thing if I could.

Remember that there's a stimulus which you can't control, but the response is all up to you. Step in between that gap and realize that everything can be taken away from you but one remaining thing, and that is the freedom to choose.

 Movie: The Grey

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