I used to believe, before I did much thinking on the subject, and before Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning showed me otherwise, that we are all victims of the genetics with which we’re saddled and the circumstances into which we’re born. I also believed that a sense of humour is something we’re either born with or without. Over the years, and through the experiences rehabilitation bestowed on me, I’ve come to realize that I have a lot left to learn on the subject of Attitudes, but I’ve also come to realize that the closer I get to mastering this thing we call “living,” the easier and more freely my sense of humour participates in my daily life and the easier maintaining a good Attitude becomes.
Maintaining healthy senses of humor and positive Attitudes seem to be the natural result of mastering the art of living, to which following certain rules is key. The rules for living a peaceful life involve behavior and thought patterns that encourage helpful and considerate interaction between one’s self and others.
Since the rules for living are what most kind and compassionate people call common sense, another name for these rules could be: “How to accept life on life’s terms.” One key to accepting life is to realize that our Attitude is the only thing in life that we can control.
The importance of not letting one’s lack of control add stress is exemplified as Dr. Frankl compares human suffering to the type of gas concentration camps used to kill prisoners. The nature of the gas they used is to completely fill any compartment into which it’s allowed, no matter the size. “Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is little or great. Therefore the size of human suffering is absolutely relative.”
Since how much one suffers obviously depends on how much rage or discontent gas one chooses to let into their heart and soul, the same must also be true of other emotions, like peace and joy. How much happy gas will we let pervade us?
Dr. Frankle chooses this moment to tell us that after a three night and two day train ride in a car that was so full of prisoners they all had to stand and take turns squatting on the “scanty straw which was soaked with urine.” Dr. Frankle mentions this experience here for the obvious purpose of emphasizing the power to choose one’s Attitude. When the train pulled into what would be their new camp, prisoners were joking and in all around good spirits as they realized there were no ovens, crematoriums or gas chambers at this new facility.
There was freezing rain when they reached their new camp, but even standing outside all night and late into the next morning until a missing prisoner was found and punished for falling asleep at an inopportune time, couldn’t dampen their spirits. “…we were all very pleased! There were no chimney in this camp, and Auschwitz (their first camp.) was a long way off.”
On another occasion, a group of convicts passed the prisoners’ work site. The obvious relativity of all suffering seemed quite apparent to Dr. Frankl as the prisoners around him looked enviously at the convicts with their comparatively safe and comfortable lives.
This reminds me that when I first left the hospital after my crash, I wore a shoe that had a heavy metal brace permanently attached. The contraption was quite uncomfortable and required me to continuously take muscle relaxers to reduce the spasticity in my foot so I could slip the shoe on. Imagine my relief a few years later when I was able to exchange this shoe brace for a heavy metal brace that could be fit into a small variety of shoes.
The time of true relief came about 15 years after my crash when I went in for surgery on my foot and they cut my heel chord. Even the cumbersome brace that replaced the shoe brace had been quite uncomfortable. The light plastic brace they gave me after my surgery can fit into any shoe, or sandal, I decide to wear. By comparison, it is such a joy that I give thanks every time I put it on. While growing up, and being quite active in all the usual things young people are, I would have found wearing even the plastic brace quite unacceptable.
The reason the light comfortable brace seems like a privilege today is because I’ve had a sufficient number of experiences to completely change my perspective.
One’s perspective obviously controls how they feel about a given situation. The simple fact that prisoners, under the harshest of conditions, in a concentration camp chose to be “pleased” with their circumstances tells me that: At least until I find myself in as bad of a situation as a concentration camp, I can focus my energy on being pleased with the things that are going my way instead complaining about things that are not going my way. In other words, I can choose to have a good Attitude.