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Is your life plagued by loneliness? Here’s how I defeated it

Five years ago I lost it. Feeling intensely lonely and frustrated and needing something in the way of companionship, I sent out a cry for help.

It didn’t make sense that I was so lonely.  I had just started doing a PhD in the United Kingdom with incredibly interesting people. I had started lecturing at universities in Europe. I had a job with a management consultancy that wanted to employ me full time after my PhD.

In short, my life was fantastic. Yet nothing could shake this deep feeling of loneliness in the pit of my gut.

Here’s a part of an email I sent to a friend at that time.

Five years on, I’m no longer lonely. I feel connected with outstanding people in my life who share my values. I’ve created a global platform with 40,000 members sharing their ideas. I’m enjoying the journey and I’m very grateful for all of the wonderful people in my life.

Looking back, it would be easy to say that quitting my PhD to create Ideapod was the action I took to address my feelings of loneliness by changing the circumstances in my life. Yet this isn’t the case.

Instead, I can pinpoint the one single thing that shifted the course of my life and helped me to deeply address my feelings of loneliness.

I read a book.

That’s right. A single book changed the course of my life. I devoured this book in a single day, and it impacted me deeply.

I didn’t know at the time how profound reading that book was, but looking back I can see it clearly.

The book was Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl, a psychoanalyst who was imprisoned in a concentration camp in the Second World War. The book describes his method of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and thus a reason to continue living.

The book taught me that I was in complete control of my life, not necessarily in terms of the circumstances I was dealt with, but in terms of how I chose to interpret what was happening.

The loneliness didn’t go away immediately, but this newfound perspective encouraged me to start making plans. To start committing to taking actions to move my life forward.

With some plans in place, I started to interpret my loneliness differently. My loneliness became the motivation to keep me moving forward.

Although there’s no substitute to reading this book, I’ve put together 20 quotes from Man’s Search for Meaning to give you a quick guide to what you may learn from reading it.

I hope you find this as inspiring as I did.

1. “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.”

2. “At such a moment, it is not the physical pain which hurts the most (and this applies to adults as much as to punished children); it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all.”

3. “Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run — in the long run, I say — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

4. “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

5. “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

6. “But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

7. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

8. “It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”

9. “Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life.”

10. “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

11. “The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”

12. “Man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that so effectively helps one to survive even the worse conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

13. “The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.”

14. “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” — Nietzsche

15. “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.”

16. “…the story of the young woman whose death I witnessed in a concentration camp. It is a simple story. There is little to tell and it may sound as if I had invented it; but to me it seems like a poem. This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. ‘I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,’ she told me. ‘In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.’ Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, ‘This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.’ Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. ‘I often talk to this tree,’ she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. ‘Yes.’ What did it say to her? She answered, ‘It said to me, I am here — I am here — I am life, eternal life.'”

17. “One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”

18. “Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself.”

19. “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him.”

20. “A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way — an honorable way — in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.'”

Written by Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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