7 lessons from Viktor Frankl to navigate life’s toughest moments

There are many inspirational people in history to draw references from, but in my opinion, very few hold both wisdom and genius at the same time. 

Viktor Frankl is arguably one of those people. 

He was an Austrian Holocaust survivor who went on to become one of the most well-known neurologists and psychiatrists in history. 

More specifically, he’s the founding father of logotherapy, a recognized school of psychiatry that centers on the search for meaning as a fundamental human drive. 

Without a doubt, Mr. Frankl has a lot of insight to impart to us newer generations. So without further ado, let’s dive into the 7 lessons we can learn from him to navigate life’s toughest moments:

1) Your response is your choice

“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.”

Due to Frankl’s undesirable experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, he came to teach others that following any event or stimulus, there is a space containing the power to choose our attitude in response. 

He emphasized that this ability to choose our attitude, even in the worst of circumstances, represents the beauty of human freedom. 

So when you’re going through a challenging moment in life, remember that you may not have control over external events, but you have control over how you interpret and react to the event. 

When you’re confronted with an obstacle, take a moment to pause, reflect, and choose a response that aligns with your values and aspirations.

It might just turn a terrible situation into one that contains incredible growth and potential.

Or, at the very least, you’ll learn to not let unwanted situations affect your outlook and contentment. 

In my opinion, that’s one of the most useful skills you could master!

2) Having a purpose can get you through anything

Frankl’s most famous lesson is that even in the most excruciating situations, you can find purpose in your suffering. 

Not only that – but the meaning you find in the situation will actually help you survive the suffering, and become a better, wiser person for it. 

Through his own experiences, he realized that those who could identify a purpose, whether it was reuniting with loved ones, holding onto their dignity, or bearing witness to the atrocities around them, were more likely to survive.

So when you are faced with adversity, remember that you can seek meaning by asking yourself what lessons you can learn from the experience. 

Draw from what motivates you to get through this, and how it can contribute to your personal growth. 

Remember that everything is temporary.

If you can find purpose in your life, and even more so in your moments of suffering, you’ll also tap into an incredible inner strength.

3) The present moment is all you have

By now, you’ve probably heard again and again to “live in the present moment”. 

The idea of living in the present has become quite trendy in recent years. 

It might even be difficult to adopt when this advice can sometimes come with an unrealistic image of sitting on a meditation cushion for two hours a day – far away from the challenges of life.  

However, Frankl’s wise advice is backed by struggles few of us can ever imagine enduring. 

Which makes it all the more worth listening to! 

So although it’s crucial to learn from the past and plan for the future, the present moment is where we experience life. 

If we can become fully present in every situation we find ourselves in, no matter how undesirable, we can still experience meaning, connection, and maybe even joy.

4) Lend others a hand when you can

No matter how much relative privilege you have, life is never a walk in the park for anyone. 

We all experience struggles in our own ways. Different struggles, sure – but struggles nonetheless. 

One of Frankl’s main findings from his time in concentration camps was that those who survived, often felt a sense of responsibility to help others. 

And those who helped others, even when they were struggling themselves, often gave both themselves and others a sense of purpose or meaning when they didn’t have any. 

The takeaway is that in our own lives, extending a big or small helping hand to others can not only alleviate their suffering but also enhance our own sense of purpose and well-being.

If we can get away from comparisons or judgments about others’ struggles and instead have empathy, we can take steps to create the kind of world we all surely want to live in. 

5) You can find freedom internally

In experiencing one of the most confined and dehumanizing situations imaginable, Viktor Frankl came to the understanding that no one could take away his inner freedom.

By this, he meant his freedom to think, believe, and feel what he chooses, even when every external factor was pushing him to lose hope. 

He still chose to have hope and to maintain a positive outlook that reflected this. 

The key lesson is that we can always cultivate inner freedom by shifting our thoughts, beliefs, and values toward maintaining dignity and strength. 

In fact, when we find inner freedom to choose our attitude, we can empower ourselves to overcome any form of adversity – as Mr. Frankl proves to us!

6) Having meaningful relationships is crucial

Having true connections with other people is a fundamental source of meaning in life. 

Frankl’s experiences in the concentration camps highlighted the significance of maintaining relationships.

He recounted that this was an immeasurable source of hope and support in times of need, for him and those around him. 

So although you may feel independent and capable on your own when things are fine, it’s important to note that there may be a time when you will need support during unforeseen challenges ahead.

Try to nurture and cherish the relationships you have!

7) Nothing lasts forever

In his experiences, Frankl recognized the transience of everything, including life itself. 

That may be sad to contemplate, but it’s also the beauty of life. 

Because suffering, like all things, is temporary too. And maybe because each moment will only ever happen once, it’s also something to be cherished. 

By acknowledging the impermanence of our challenges, we can find solace and strength in knowing that all difficult times will eventually pass.

Final thoughts

In Viktor Frankl’s memorable journey from Holocaust survivor to a renowned psychiatrist, he offers us these profound gems to navigate life with resilience and meaning. 

His enduring wisdom reminds us that, in life’s toughest moments, our response remains a choice. There is always an opportunity to choose our attitude!

To me, his philosophy champions the incredible power of finding purpose, connection, presence, and inner freedom as tools for navigating adversity. 

These 7 timeless lessons have the potential to continue to guide us. 

They remind us that the human spirit can always triumph, discover meaning, and thrive – even in the face of the unimaginable.

Picture of Shela Riva

Shela Riva

Shela Riva is a Thai-Swiss freelance writer, artist, energy mentor and co-creator of Jaiyen Eco Resort, a creative retreat space in Thailand. She is deeply passionate about our incredible ability to transform and is dedicated to helping each person realize the power within themselves, whether through her writing, empowering custom art pieces, one-on-one work or in-person retreats.

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