from the world's big
The doctor who prescribed the meaning of life to his patients
Anxious? Dr. Frankl suggested you take a different view of things.
- Not having a meaningful life can be dreadful, and one psychologist thought it was the root cause of many neuroses.
- His ideas became Logotherapy, which focuses on the need for a meaningful life and has shown success in many areas.
- Many studies agree that leading a meaningful life has tangible benefits and lacking meaning can lead to problems.
Many people struggle with the question of what the meaning of life their life is. The dread that can accompany meaninglessness is well known, but where to turn when you can't find purpose often remains obscure.
Then, there is Viktor Frankl, and his school of psychology based around finding the meaning of your life.
Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychologist known for his system of psychotherapy known as Logotherapy. As he explained in his book Man's Search for Meaning, many of the key ideas were born out of his time in Nazi concentration camps. He observed how his fellow prisoners dealt with the Nazi atrocities; these observations formed the basis for his theories.
Frankl suggested that a "will to meaning," exists in all of us and impacts our behavior and mental health. Our having it means that what we really want in life is to give a meaning to what we are doing and experiencing. If we fail to do so, we are likely to begin to show symptoms of depression, anxiety, and neurosis. By finding meaning, we can fully function as people and deal with whatever life throws at us.
Logotherapy was designed to help people deal with the problem of finding meaning, and had a robust theoretical framework to help guide it. Frankl assumed that life had inherent value and was worth living, that we have a will to meaning which must be confronted, that we have the freedom to find meaning at every moment, and that people had not only a mind and body but a "spirit" that was our true, unique, essence that also had to be considered.
In sessions, Frankl would engage in dialogue with his patients to help guide them along a path of self-discovery. He also helped people directly face their fears as a way to overcome them and encouraged people to see problems in larger contexts by steering them away from self-absorbed brooding.
The fundamental ideas of the school are evident in a famous excerpt from his book which concerns a distraught widower:
"Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now, how can I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, 'What would have happened, doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?' 'Oh,' he said, 'for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!' Whereupon I replied, 'You see, doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering — to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.' He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice."
This is nice and all, but is there any empirical data for these theories or is it all just hot air?
The various benefits of having meaning in your life are well known. People who feel their lives have meaning tend to be healthier, happier, age better, and generally have a better time than people who don't.
As for Logotherapy, an overarching study of existing research showed it is an effective method for dealing with common issues such as depression and anxiety. It has also shown promise in marriage counseling, hospice care, coping with job burnout, empty nest syndrome, and is linked to increased life expectancy in cancer patients.
Though it was never meant to deal with severe psychosis, it has been used to help people with these conditions as well with some degree of success.
How can somebody do in their day to day life to find meaning? I’m asking for a friend.
Dr. Viktor Frankl
Frankl gave us three suggestions in his book:
"We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed [the way of achievement or accomplishment]; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone [the way of nature and culture, and the way of love]; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering."
He also reminds us that life isn't fair, and sometimes it's going to suck. In these cases, attitude can be everything:
"When we are no longer able to change a situation — just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer — we are challenged to change ourselves."
He isn't encouraging suffering for its own sake though; he later clarified that option three applies only when the first options are unavailable.
What are some criticisms of this school?
There are a few issues with Logotherapy that were pointed out by other existential psychologists.
The most notable was Frankl's authoritarian tendencies when conducting therapy sessions. Psychologist Rollo May explained in his book Existential Psychology, Frankl's therapy came dangerously close to authoritarianism because:
"… there seem to be clear solutions to all problems, which belies the complexity of actual life. It seems that if the patient cannot find his goal, Frankl supplies him with one. This would seem to take over the patients' responsibility and. . . diminish the patient as a person."
In another case, May compared Frankl's treatment of a patient with schizophrenia as having the "same authoritarian character as fundamentalistic religion." If these issues were problems with Logotherapy itself or with Frankl's application of his theories, as he was said to have been arrogant when talking with patients, is an unsolved question.
One thing is clear though, if you didn't have meaning in your life Dr. Frankl was going to give it to you. Even the famous story above about the widower takes on a new tone in light of this critique. It's ironic when you think about it — remember where Frankl said he was when he came up with some of these ideas.
Is this system still in use?
It lives on in spirit if not in name. Meaning Therapy, a recently developed school that helps people work toward self-transcendence as a solution to various issues, was directly influenced by Frankl's thought. Elements of Logotherapy have also found their way into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). The overlap with ACT is very plain to see, as several sources agree that working toward a meaningful life is a critical element of it. The use of Logotherapy as a compliment to CBT has been directly studied with positive results.
Is the need for meaning so great that without it we start to crack? Is meaning, once found, so sustaining that it can support people even through the darkest part of the 20th century? One psychologist thought so and tried to help others as best he could with that insight. While finding a dedicated Logotherapist might be difficult, the ideas of Viktor Frankl can still be of great use in therapy and to people everywhere who are trying to make sense of it all.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
How can we promote the creation of new neurons - and why is it so important?
- Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth.
- After birth, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain: the olfactory bulb (which is responsible for our sense of smell) and the hippocampus (which is responsible for memory, spatial navigation, and emotional processing).
- Research from the 1960s proves creating new neurons as adults is possible, and modern-day research explains how (and why) we should promote new neuron growth.
Two parts of the brain can continue growing through neurogenesis<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTAwODc1MH0.4GDLlZmkwuD0-pJ0s0UWcUoYXMy95a-AM61a_QAlAeA/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e77e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e23499fdf3b2185533979083fd02db7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="brain made of twigs and plants concept of neurogenesis" />
Neurogenesis is still possible well into adulthood in two very important parts of the human brain.
Image by EtiAmmos on Shutterstock<p>Although most people are aware that aging or bad habits such as heavy alcohol use can contribute to the deterioration of our brains, not many of us give thought to how we can generate new brain cells.</p><p>Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth. </p><p><strong>After birth, however, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain:</strong></p><ul><li>The olfactory bulb, which is a structure of the forebrain that's responsible for our sense of smell. </li><li>The hippocampus, which is a structure of the brain located within the temporal lobe (just above your ears) - this area is important for learning, memory, regulation, of emotions and spatial navigation. </li></ul><p>Of course, when this information first came to light <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13860748" target="_blank">back in the 1960s</a>, the next natural question was: How do we promote neurogenesis in those areas where it's still possible? </p><p>Researchers today believe there are activities you can do (some of them may be things you already do on a daily basis) that can promote neurogenesis in your brain. </p><p><strong>Why is it important to promote the growth of new neurons in adulthood?</strong></p><p>We produce an estimated 700 million neurons per day in the hippocampus - this means by the time we reach the age of 50, we will have exchanged the neurons we were born within that area of the brain with new (adult-generated) neurons. </p><p>If we don't promote this exchange with the growth of new neurons, we may block certain abilities these new neurons help us with (such as keeping our memory sharp, for example). </p>
4 ways to promote neurogenesis in your brain<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTE3NjczNH0.qyzh_AIUPKfaQIa1QEq4yTNCAAK9nYkH3HFV9vWXwww/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C104&height=700" id="64a68" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee1307fe2dd61ae425552da56db3c5ff" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="child playing trumpet concept of learning a new instrument neurogenesis" />
Learning a new instrument helps promote neurogenesis.
Photo by DenisProduction.com on Shutterstock<p><strong>Intermittent fasting</strong></p><p><a href="https://law.stanford.edu/2015/01/09/lawandbiosciences-2015-01-09-intermittent-fasting-try-this-at-home-for-brain-health/" target="_blank">A 2015 Stanford study</a> examined the link between <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-ways-to-do-intermittent-fasting#section1" target="_blank">intermittent fasting</a> and neurogenesis. Calorie restriction and fasting can not only increase synaptic plasticity and promote neuron growth but it can also decrease your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases and boost cognitive function. </p><p><u>Two of the most common ways you can intermittently fast are: </u></p><ul><li>16 hours per day every day - this is a method where you are able to eat for an 8 hour period of the day and fast for 16 hours of the day. Many people begin their "fast" after dinner, pushing their morning meal far enough towards lunch that most of their "off" eating time happens while they are asleep anyways. </li></ul><ul><li>24 hours every week - this is a method where once a week you fast for an entire day. Some people prefer this method because the rest of the week can resume as normal - but for many, this is a difficult way to fast. </li></ul><p><strong>Traveling to new places</strong></p><p>While traveling is something many of us enjoy — scenic routes and new fun experiences — these things also promote neurogenesis while we're on vacation. <a href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/travel/ct-xpm-2014-01-28-sc-trav-0128-travel-mechanic-20140128-story.html" target="_blank">Paul Nussbaum</a>, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, explains that the mental benefits of traveling are very clear.<br></p><p><em>"When you expose your brain to an environment that's novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts. Those new and challenging situations cause the brain to sprout dendrites (dangling extensions) which grow the brain's capacity." </em></p><p><strong>Learning a new instrument</strong></p><p>The mental health benefits of music have long been studied, but did you know that learning a new instrument can promote new neuron growth? </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996135/" target="_blank">this 2010 study</a>, learning to play a new musical instrument is an intense, multisensory motor experience that requires that acquisition and maintenance of skills over your entire lifetime - which of course, promotes the new formation of new neural networks. </p><p>When is the best time to begin learning a new instrument? Childhood, of course. </p><p><em>"Learning to play a new musical instrument in childhood can result in long-lasting changes in brain organization," </em>according to the study mentioned above. </p><p>While learning an instrument in adulthood will also promote neurogenesis, children who began training with a musical instrument before the age of 7 have shown that they have a significantly larger corpus callosum (the area of the brain the allows communication between the two hemispheres of the brain) than many adults. </p><p><strong>Reading novels</strong></p><p>A study from <a href="http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html" target="_blank">Emory University</a> showed there was an increase in ongoing connectivity in the brains of participants after reading the same (fiction) novel. </p><p>In this study, enhanced brain activity was observed in the region that control physical sensations and movement. Reading a novel, according to lead researcher Gregory Berns, can transport you into the body of the protagonist. </p><p>This ability to shift into another mental state is a vital skill that promotes healthy neurogenesis in those areas of the brain. </p>
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- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
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Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
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