Imagine you have been captured by the military. You have no idea whether you will ever see those you love again or even whether you will come out alive. Who do you think is most likely to survive this camp?

This actually happened to Victor Frankl during World War Two. He wrote a book about it called Man’s Search for Meaning.

During his time in the camp Frankl observed that it wasn’t necessarily the young and healthy who survived. It was those who had a reason to live. Those who had a reason to live were more likely to survive than those who didn’t – however young and fit they were. Frankl movingly describes the other prisoners recognising someone who had given up living – and how they would sometimes commit suicide by walking into the electrified fence surrounding the camp.

This experience led to Frankl formulating his own style of psychotherapy. He called it “logotherapy”. This translates roughly as ‘meaning therapy’. During his therapy sessions he was known for asking his clients why they didn’t commit suicide – as a way of finding out what they lived for.

Our reason for living doesn’t have to be a big, cosmic thing. It can be our spouse and friends, a club we belong to, a cause we believe in. But having something you believe in is good for your health. (From my point of view it’s better if it is something worthy that we believe in – caring for others, saving the planet, living spiritually – but how good the reason for living is doesn’t matter too much for our health.)

Thankfully, some of us are less likely to be imprisoned for no reason than those living in Europe during World War Two. But what was learnt in this extreme situation is still important, and useful for us. Health, the ability to live in difficult situations, is not only to do with diet and exercise (important as they are), it is also to do with having a reason to live.

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