Happiness must come naturally – and this is true for success: you must let it happen simply by not obsessing over it.
“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 about it” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Today, probably more than ever, we have time to face questions about our own lives. Maybe we had them on the list, but it wasn’t their turn yet to receive an answer. Or maybe this was the time we had the courage to address them. What does success mean to me? When can I say I reached it? What fulfills and satisfies me in this life? What are my values? Is what I do in line with my values? How well do I know myself? Of course, anytime can be a good time to ask ourselves these questions, and anytime is a good time to look for answers. It may not be so easy for us to find answers, and that is fine. But it is not okay to postpone or avoid questions whose answers can increase and improve our quality of life.
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) lived the experience of the Nazi camps. He was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, the founder of logotherapy (healing through meaning). In 1992 he founded the scientific research institute that bears his name. To learn more about the experience of the Holocaust and how he managed to cope with it, Man’s Search for Meaning is a book worth reading.
Meaning therapy is an integrative, positive and existential approach to counseling and psychotherapy. Logotherapy focuses on the positive psychology of the fact that life is worth living despite suffering and limitations.
In psychotherapy, the role of the therapist is, among other things, to help the client learn certain skills that they can use when dealing with life challenges after completing psychotherapy. One such tool is the PURE Strategy.
The PURE strategy is an acronym for: Purpose, Understanding, Responsible action, Evaluation. They are the four components of meaning therapy.
Purpose. The motivational component includes objectives, goals, development directions, values and aspirations. We can use questions such as: What should I do with my life?, What are my strengths and what can I do best?, What are my dreams and interests?, What really matters in life? What is most valuable to me? Why is it worth living and dying?
Understanding. The cognitive component includes a sense of coherence, the situations we go through, as well as understanding our own identity and that of other people. This includes questions such as: What happened? and What does this mean?.
Responsible action. The behavioral component includes appropriate actions and reactions, doing what is right, finding the right solutions, correcting, and doing things that are congruent with our values. It comprises questions such as: What is my responsibility in this situation? What is the best thing I can do? Given the circumstances and my own limitations, what real options do I have? What choices should I make? Which option is closest to my beliefs and values? Did I fix my mistakes?
Evaluation. This component includes assessing levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a particular situation or life as a whole. Evaluation is a key component in self-regulation. If the result is negative, then it may be necessary to re-evaluate the situation and make adjustments. Evaluation brings questions such as: How is my life? Did I achieve what I set out to do? Am I happy with the way I have lived my life? If this is love, why am I still unhappy? Why am I unhappy in my profession? What is the best thing I have ever done in my life?
Other important directions to remember and take into account are unrealistic and irrational thoughts, goal setting, prioritizing, and checking reality. We do all this so we can be as certain as possible the direction we are headed is also a correct, realistic one.
This strategy can be used when we have control over what happens to us. For situations over which we have no control, we turn to the second strategy.
The ABCDE strategy is used in case of prolonged negative life experiences (illness, loss of a loved one, traumatic event). It is similar to the acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) approach.
ABCDE stands for: Acceptance, Belief and affirmation, Commitment to action and specific goals, Discovering new meaning and understanding, Evaluation the outcome and enjoying positive results.
This strategy involves several psychological principles: (a) acceptance and confrontation of reality – the principle of reality, (b) the belief that life is worth living – the principle of faith, (c) commitment to goals and actions – the principle of action, (d) discovery of meaning; of significance – the “AHA” principle, (e) evaluation of previous principles – the principle of self-regulation.
A – The power of acceptance. Acceptance of reality and limits is essential in meaning therapy. Refusing to accept that there is a problem in our lives can destroy us day in and day out, while acceptance heals.
Acceptance does not mean giving up or embracing passivity. We need to be honest, learn how to transcend and transform what cannot be changed. Meaning therapy recognizes different levels of acceptance: (a) cognitive acceptance – rational recognition that something has happened, (b) emotional acceptance – willingness to confront and relive painful emotional reactions to the event, (c) full acceptance – sincere recognition of full impact of the event on life, (d) integrative acceptance – learning to integrate the negative event into one’s life, (e) existential acceptance – learning to live with what cannot be changed, (f) transcendental acceptance – willingness to rise above acceptance, to leave the past behind and move on, (g) transformative acceptance – learning to transform the negative event into something positive.
Some interventions and exercises that will facilitate acceptance: reviewing traumatic events in detail, normalizing adversity, accepting one’s own limitations and weaknesses, practicing gratitude, forgiveness, and prayer.
B – The power of faith and affirmation. Affirming the intrinsic value and meaning of being alive and the belief that they can be achieved are necessary. The assertion that progress can be made influences the likelihood of further change. The road to recovery is often steep and difficult, full of discomfort and pain, but this path teaches us to resist and persevere. Faith helps. It gives rise to hope and inspires progress.
C – The power of action. Real change is only possible when the first concrete step in a new direction begins. According to a Chinese proverb, a journey of thousands of miles begins with a single step. To move forward, we must act. Even if we don’t feel like doing it, we have to do it. In many circumstances, action is more important than feelings, even more important than thinking. Recovery depends on the commitment to pursue certain values and the responsible action to make changes in various areas of life. The development of persistence is necessary to achieve lasting change and the formation of new patterns of thinking and behavior. Physical, psychological, relational or spiritual exercises can be used. It is important to (a) develop and implement action plans, (b) set concrete and specific objectives, (c) take small steps towards achieving each objective.
D – The power of discovery. In the darkness of confusion and despair, suddenly a light comes on and the journey begins to make sense. Many tools can help in this regard: expressive therapy, strong questions, keeping a journal, self-reflection, Socratic questions.
E – Evaluating the result and the joy of the results. Evaluation is the affective component of self-regulation. If nothing seems to work and there is no reduction in symptoms and no improvement in the pursuit of positive life goals, then some adjustment is needed. Positive emotions such as joy, relief, gratitude and confidence are inevitable if the previous four strategic ABCDE stages are successful. Positive feelings and positive results reinforce positive changes.
The will to meaning is probably Frankl’s most influential theoretical contribution to the field of psychology. It’s his way of speaking of the deepest desire of the human spirit and opening the door to the exploration of spirituality and the transcendental realm. According to Frankl, this spiritual desire cannot be fully satisfied by pleasure, power, and material acquisitions. It can only be satisfied by losing ourselves in serving a higher purpose and a greater good.
This principle echoes what Jesus Christ taught His disciples: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Faith in God does not mean that we have a life without worries and problems, but a life full of hope, peace and tranquility in storms, but especially meaning in every day of our lives.
Mădălina Caraveţeanu holds a B.A in psychology from the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the University of Bucharest, and a Masters degree in clinical psychology, psychological counseling and psychotherapy, from the Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca.