“What book has impacted your life the most?” was a question asked of me by Andrew Elsass a while back. I thought about this for some time, because that’s a tough question to answer, and it deserved some honest consideration.
I could say The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien for the love of adventure and epic stories and mountains it imparted on me. It’s not coincidence that I moved to the Front Range of Colorado right after college graduation. But this isn’t the most impactful. I could say Ishmael (and its siblings The Story of B and My Ishmael) by Daniel Quinn for the revealing critique of our culture and way of living that I only really recognized on my second read-through. But this still wasn’t the most impactful.
Indeed, I must say Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I’ve read it a few times, and, while I don’t have it memorized, it’s stuck with me and transformed me the most. It was first recommended to me during college when I struggled with the stresses of courses, a failed relationship, and depression. The most influential part? That while we can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we react. This resonated with me in ways I cannot express. It is deceptively simple, but is neither what I intuitively think nor how I habitually act. Additionally, it floored me that a positive outlook was literally a difference between life and death in concentration camps of World War II. People who gave up would die. The will to live is a real thing. So the power of the mind – the power of perspective – is brought to light. One more thing… no one can take away the experiences you’ve had. Your past is forever, immutably yours. Relish it.
Combine these realizations with mindfulness practices, and my approach to living each day has changed. There was no instant moment, because it was a gradual process. But I’m a happy person now, because I realize I’m in charge of my happiness. No one can give it to me or take it away from me, unless I let them. I haven’t done the mindfulness practices in some time, but the lessons from Man’s Search for Meaning sank into my bones.
Skeptical? Try it. When your next daily frustration shows up, recognize it for what it is. Be mindful of your initial reaction. But then set it aside, without judging your reaction. You may have a habit to react this way, but you’re not obligated to do that forever. It’s a habit you’ve built over years, without even realizing it. Now, choose how you want to react. From this new perspective, it seems you can let it roll away and not anger you. It’s powerful! Practice this cycle of action-awareness-reaction. You must build this habit and let it override the old one. Soon, most annoyances will seem trite. Our reactions aren’t ingrained, like it’s easy to believe. We’re not as powerless as we may feel. In a year, you can look back and realize you really chose how you lived because you chose how you reacted.