In September 1942, Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was sent to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents. Three years later, when his camp was liberated, most of his family had perished. But he, prisoner number 119104, had lived.
In his bestselling 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl describes people who would walk through the camp giving words of comfort to others, even though their circumstances were no better. He concluded that the difference between those who could give comfort and those who couldn’t came down to one thing: Meaning.
As he saw, those who found meaning even in horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Frankl concluded, “the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Whenever I find myself in a really bad mood, or mired in boredom or life’s challenges, I remind myself that I can choose a different attitude. Something that helps is focusing on being grateful, even if it’s just to say, “I’m thankful for having the wisdom to recognize I’m in a funk so I can choose a different attitude.” I also remind myself that my circumstances are never as dire as what Frankl faced, and if he could do it there, I certainly can do it in my blessed life.
Mr. Frankl continues to teach us that we do not always choose our circumstances but we can choose how we respond to things that happen in our lives.