Viktor Frankl’s “Attitudinal Values” or Having the Right Attitude about Life

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Viktor Frankl

Mental Health is Shaped by a Person’s Attitude

An individual’s mental health depends, in no small measure, on the right attitude he or she has about the hardships of life, such suffering, disappointment, failure and defeat. For example, when I am hurting over some kind of setback, I often choose to say – and this is very hard to do in the moment, when a person may be experiencing negative feelings about himself or herself –

‘I was weak so that I might become strong. I was hurt so that I might be healed. I was wrong so that I might be right. I had lost so that I might win. I was rejected so that I might be accepted. I had failed so that I might succeed. I was told ‘no’ so that I might hear ‘yes.’ I was broken so that I might be put back together, even better than before the break.’

Meaning is Shaped by a Person’s Attitude

In other words, a negative experience can have a positive outcome, depending on an individual’s attitude. Viktor Frankl, the eminent psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, calls having the right attitude “attitudinal values.” With such values, he himself was able to emerge from the Nazi concentration camps, choosing to make the best out of the worst situations imaginable and, thereby, turning his tragedies into triumphs. He writes,

“It is through attitudinal values that even the negative, tragic aspects of human existence, or what I call the ‘tragic triad’ – pain, guilt, and death – may be turned into something positive and creative.”

Take, for example, human suffering. Its meaning is shaped, in large measure, by one’s attitude toward it. Thus, if one finds a meaning to suffering, one eases it. But if one chooses to find no meaning to suffering, one makes it even worse. Depending, then, on one’s attitude, suffering can either have meaning or be meaningless.

For sure, there are many problems and tragedies in life, which are happening right now. But there are also all kinds of positive things, which happening every day throughout the world, although they are, for the most part, outside of a person’s awareness. For instance, today, in all likelihood, one person is choosing to hope in the face of despair. Another is taking food to the poor and homeless. Still another, a single parent, is going to work to support his or her child. An alcoholic is choosing not to “take a drink.” A drug addict is making a decision to seek professional help. Thus, the world, despite all its problems, is filled with wonder and goodness.

Therefore, the way a person looks at life is shaped by his or her attitude or mental approach to it. In the final analysis, life can, depending a person’s choice, make him or her either bitter or better. The best way to function in life is to choose to be a better person. While acknowledging or realizing that bad things happen, choose to focus on the good things as well. Don’t allow what is bad to stop you from becoming a good human being!

Endnote

Viktor E. Frankl, The Unconscious God (New York, N.Y.: Washington Square Press/ Pocket Books/ Simon and Schuster, Inc., English ed.1975, 1st Washington Square Press printing 1985), pp. 125-126.

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