In his book Man’s search for Meaning, Victor Frankl said “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears towards a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how’.”

A study conducted by Frankl in his Vienna clinic found that among both patients and personnel, around 80 percent believed that human beings needed a reason for living, and around 60 percent felt they had someone or something in their lives worth dying for.

WHAT IS PURPOSE?

Without much effort, Victor Frankl and Ikigai echo in my mind when I think about the purpose and meaning of our existence in life. Few months passed since I read an enlightening book-Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.

In the preface of Man’s Search for Meaning, Gordon W.Allport shared, “Dr. Frankl, author-psychiatrist, sometimes asks his patients who suffer from the multitude of torments great and small, “why do you not commit suicide?’ From their answers he can often find the guide-line for his psycho-therapy: in one life there is love for one’s children to tie to; In another life, a talent to be used; In a third, perhaps only lingering memories worth preserving.”

We may be in harmony with our purpose when we lose the sense of being and time too. We find ourselves so engrossed in the work at hand that we experience the flow and rhythm that is difficult to break. It’s a state of total absorption. Have you ever noticed that time just flies if you are engrossed in an activity that you enjoy? While reading a book, you may lose the sense of time. Nevertheless, the opposite can also happen. When we have to complete a task which we don’t want to do, every minute feels like a lifetime and we can’t stop looking at our watch. The funny thing is that someone else might really enjoy the same task, but we want to finish as quickly as possible.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has done extensive research in the area of the experience of being completely immersed in what we are doing. He called this state “flow”. In his book Flow-The Psychology of Optimal Experience, he asserts that flow is “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

There is an undeniable commonality between both- Victor Frankl’s contribution in the form of logotherapy and Ikigai. The Focus area for both is to find the reason to live. 

A colleague once asked Victor Frankl to define his school of psychology in a single phrase, to which he replied, “well, in logotherapy the patient sits up straight and has to listen to things that are, on occasion, hard to hear”. Logotherapy helps you to find a reason to live. It pushes the patients to consciously discover their life’s purpose in order to confront their neuroses.

“Ikigai is a Japanese concept, which roughly translates as “the happiness of always being busy”. Our ikigai or purpose which gives meaning to our life is hidden deep inside each of us, and finding it requires a patient search. Japanese believes that everyone has an ikigai. Some people have found their’s, while others are still looking, though they carry it within them. It was found in a longitudinal study as one of the reasons behind the extraordinary longevity of Japanese, especially on the island of Okinawa. Centenary of Okinawa asserted that their ikigai is the reason they get up in the morning.

However, it is also true that we hardly reflect upon the purpose of our lives in particular, especially during a state of bliss, happiness, and a feeling of fulfillment. It never crosses our mind because we are completely engrossed in our lives which, till now maybe reaping positive results.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN NEGATIVITY TAKES ENTRY INTO YOUR LIFE WITHOUT PRIOR NOTICE? 

Initially, we try to relive every moment spent with happiness. Reliving and rewinding again and again, as if we are still stuck at that phase, which in reality has passed. Gradually, we start struggling with a range of perplexing emotions that connotes sadness and negative feelings. We experience stress when our life lacks positive ingredients such as happiness, energy, and fulfillment.

 When we are not able to generate happiness and satisfaction in our lives, we tend to incline towards negativity. We get trapped in the vicious circle of negativity where nothing seems right. Such moments bring to your forefront a few profound questions that lied silently during happy times. Moreover, it starts speaking louder than ever in your head-What is the meaning of my life? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? What is the meaning of my existence?

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO CONSIDER THE PURPOSE FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?

A study found that higher sense of purpose levels relates to greater life satisfaction, positive affect, grit, and hope. It was also found while considering health that a higher sense of purpose relates to fewer negative daily symptoms, predicts greater longevity, and predicts more beneficial cognitive outcomes. Sense of purpose also appears connected to greater comfort with and openness to diversity. 

Another study found that highly purposeful older women had lower cholesterol, were less likely to be overweight, and had lower levels of an inflammatory response. It was also found that individuals who reported higher purpose are less likely to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and even Alzheimer’s Disease.

In one of the studies where children and adolescents were assigned to write and deliver gratitude letters to people they felt has blessed them, it was found that children who had a lower initial level of positive affect and gratitude, compared to a control group, had significantly higher gratitude and positive affect after delivering the letter for as long as two months later. Several studies found that even inducing a temporary purpose mindset improved academic outcomes, including self-regulation, persistence, grade point average and the amount of time students were willing to spend studying for tests and completing homework.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DISCOVER ONE’S PURPOSE?

1)It gives you a reason to live a meaningful life.

2) It gives you direction in your life.

3) As it helps you discover your source of flow, where you may enjoy tasks so much, that you even lose the sense of time, it helps you to stay stable in the ups and downs of life.

4) It helps you to regulate your emotions appropriately to the need of the situation

5) It helps to look at stress as manageable and tolerable and helps you to practice impulse  control.

6) It keeps you away from negativity as you tend to immerse yourself in the task which you like the most when sadness grapples you in various forms.

There is no magic recipe for finding happiness, for living according to your ikigai, but one key ingredient is the ability to reach a state of flow and, through this state, to have an optimal experience. 

What makes us enjoy doing something so much that we forget about whatever worries we might have while we do it? When are we happiest? These questions can help us discover our ikigai.

“Einstein said, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it feels like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That is relativity.”

Best Wishes
Palllavi Sahu

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References-

IKIGAI: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles

Man’s search for Meaning: the classic tribute to hope from Holocaust by Victor E.Frankl

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