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Five Ways to Find Meaning in Madness

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.



Five Ways to Find Meaning in Madness

Alex Pattakos has successfully translated Viktor Frankl's key principles for finding meaning in life into our daily world. It's not very easy to do, but it is possible to find meaning and learn a great deal from setbacks other than the traditional "I-know-not-do-that-again" lesson.

As an exclusive to the Author blog, Alex presents below The Five Ways We Can Find Meaning in the Setbacks and Problems We Experience Daily:

1. See setbacks as a way to believe in meaning. Whenever we suffer -- no matter what the severity of our suffering is -- we have the ability to find meaning in the situation. Meaning exists in all scenarios and believing that means you'll be able to find it in the roughest patches. Also, meaning is not a singular value -- look for the "mini-meanings" along life's paths, not simply for the "BIG" answers to the questions that life asks.

Example: If you experience a tragedy but you don't acknowledge the value of meaning, it's too easy to start believing that you are a powerless "victim" of circumstances and nothing more. We all know people who are like this and we know how damaging such a self-fulfilling prophecy can be.

2. Use adversity as training for your attitude. In all situations, no matter how desperate they may appear or actually be, you always have the ultimate freedom to choose your attitude. This doesn't mean you can force yourself to be happy because something awful happened, but you can choose how you react and interpret an awful experience. Your choice of attitude is a first, and a very important, step towards finding meaning in any given situation. Choosing your attitude empowers you and builds your resiliency to misfortune.

Example: Ask yourself with absolute honesty whether you usually confront situations with a focus on positive outcomes. Your attitude dictates how you'll perceive events and how you'll grow and learn from them -- or not. Focused properly, your attitudinal predisposition positively influences your search for meaning, but done wrong, it can also thwart it.

3. Use an unfortunate event as an opportunity to gain perspective. Seek to look at both the situation and yourself from a distance as a removed third party. Learning when and how to separate yourself from a situation not only can help you deal with the stresses associated with it but also can help you find ways to deal with the situation effectively because you see options you wouldn't otherwise notice. A key strategic aspect to this removed perspective is a sense of humor. Humor can be used to put distance between yourself and your situation while also helping you find meaning in your plight.

Example: Have you ever been so close to a stressful situation that you felt frustrated and immobilized because you had tunnel vision and couldn't see other factors in the periphery? Now, imagine the same situation if you had been able to take a step back and laugh at yourself instead of tightening the blinders. Do you see how differently the situation would have been resolved?

4. A bad scenario is a good excuse for a break. Deflecting your attention from a problem or otherwise challenging situation to something else positive can help you cope with the situation by putting it into a more manageable context. Even a quick "mental excursion" can be healthy, help you deal with adversities. This capacity also provides us with opportunities to find the deeper meaning in our predicaments.

Example: Have you ever found yourself "day-dreaming" when confronting a stressful situation and realized that it actually helped you ease your tension? Can you see how focusing on something positive can get you "unstuck?" No one ever found meaning or resolution in single-minded obsession, but "taking a break" actually moves you closer to finding value in a tough predicament.

5. A tragedy is a tool to relate to more than yourself. By directing your attention and relating to something or someone other than (and more than) yourself, you increase your chances of finding meaning in life. Authentic meaning often comes as the unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Finding meaning in tragedy or setbacks, in this regard, is less about oneself and more about extending beyond oneself.

Example: Have you ever confronted a challenge in which you were more concerned about others than you were about yourself? An amazing dynamic occurs when you rise beyond yourself in service to others -- an understanding of values outside yourself. Relating to others is a key part of finding meaning.

I welcome all of your thoughts and reactions (and stories) below!