I just finished listening to a podcast of Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning." I picked it up because several people I interviewed for my stories on long-term unemployment told me they had read it -- often with a hint that it had helped them overcome despair. It's a very difficult book to read because it begins with the horrific tale of Frankl's three years in Nazi concentration camps. I've actually tried to read it twice before and put it down. The podcast turned out to be a good option for me because it kept me listening. I had several "aha" moments learning about Frankl's ideas. Human anxiety can often be traced back to difficulties in knowing what gives our lives meaning, he says, a theory he developed into a full school of psychiatry called logotherapy. Frankl describes three paths to meaning in life. One is through doing -- finding meaning in creativity and work. The second is through experiencing, either love or art or natural beauty. The third is by being tested through suffering -- unavoidable suffering -- and keeping hold of one's dignity and humanity.
The long-term unemployed people I spoke with were clearly referring to finding meaning through suffering. Frankl discusses the depressing effects of job loss in a couple of places. I got the sense that reading Frankl's book had kept some of the people I met from committing suicide.
I marvel that our society treats unemployment so lightly when it has this sort of consequence for the people who go through it. The business world has fully embraced layoffs over the last couple of decades. It seems like a tragic direction.