How You Respond Matters More Than What Happens

It is not what happens to you,
but how you react to it that matters.

— Epictetus

Whoever has a why to live can bear almost any how,’ as the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche declared. [Viktor E.] Frankl takes this maxim as an explanation for the will to survive he noted in some fellow [concentration camp] prisoners. Those who found a larger meaning and purpose in their lives, who had a dream of what they could contribute, were, in Frankl’s view, more likely to survive than those who gave up.

One crucial fact mattered here. Despite the cruelty visited on prisoners by the guards, the beatings, torture, and constant threat of death, there was one part of their lives that remained free: their own minds. The hopes, imagination, and dreams of prisoners were up to them, despite their awful circumstances. This inner ability was real human freedom; people are prepared to starve, he saw, ‘if starvation has a purpose or meaning.’

The lesson Frankl drew from this existential fact: our perspective on life’s events —what we make of them — matters as much or more than what actually befalls us. ‘Fate’ is what happens to us beyond our control. But we each are responsible for how we relate to those events.

Daniel Goleman (Introduction)
Viktor E. Frankl
Yes to Life in Spite of Everything

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