Learning about the meaning of life on a plane to Oxford

As I opened my kindle for the first time in over a year earlier today I discovered that my brother Oskar, who had borrowed it during his year in China, had bought Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning”. What surprised me was not the horrors Viktor Frankl described or the revealing anecdotes (Viktor was about to wake a friend up from a horrible nightmare before he stopped himself as he realized that no nightmare could be worse than waking up and realizing that one is in Auschwitz). What surprised me was the joyful moments he described amidst the suffering in Auschwitz.

It seemed to me that the moments of joy were not necessarily less frequent for them than for a normal person living today. One cannot compare the life as a whole but we can at least say that joy has a relative nature. The genuine joy the prisoners felt as they learnt that they were relocated from Auschwitz to Dachau (the latter did not have on-site gas chambers so you’d have to be sent away with a convoy before being gassed), getting a cold and sitting in a corner in the barracks for 2-days with other sick people instead of having to work or simply the joy of avoiding the worst warden for a work-shift. After being stripped off everything except life itself, things became clear. All the noise was gone and it seems like he (re)discovered something. I’m sure you’ve heard it before but he phrased it very eloquently:

“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 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 hold for success; you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”
– Viktor Frankl

My experiences up until this point in life indicate that Viktor Frankl is right. A master’s degree from Oxford is going to look good on your CV, some may even call it “success”. I enjoy life and I am generally quite satisfied with the state of things, some might call that happiness. But regardless of which; what got me to where I am today was my pursuit of something greater than myself.

I have not thought about this thoroughly but I think that my innermost driving force, my “something”, can be summed up in just three words: “to have mattered”. To not just live, then die and then be forgotten. “To have mattered” means that you have done something meaningful to other people – why else would they remember you? So right now, I am doing my very best to realize my full potential so that I can employ my talents and knowledge to the betterment of humanity (which is the pretentious way of saying “help other people”).

Oxford, 2020-09-13

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