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The Vast Practical Joke

Moby Dick by Herman Melville is on my personal list of books titled, "Multiple starts, zero finishes." I'm pleased to announce that I have slain this whale of a book and I'm sure glad I took the time to read it. Here's a few reasons why.

1. During one of his more philosophical moments, our hero Ishmael says, "There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke... and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own." 

In my experience I've found that sometimes life and the perceived terrible things which happen to us are so ironic and unforeseeable that we just have to chalk it up to the Eternal prankster and admit that he got us good. The timing and nature of some misfortunes are so on cue that you would swear that they were orchestrated by an angel with a metaphorical whoopy cushion and a high school sense of humor. I've always been a believer that sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. 

So any time that you find life has put your hand in a bucket of warm water while you were sleeping or has left a flaming bag of dog poo on your doorstep, remember the words of Ishmael.  Your whole universe is a vast practical joke and the joke is at nobody's expense but your own. Keep laughing friends. 


This entire book is centered around this quote from Nietzache: "He who has a WHY to live for can bear almost any HOW." As human beings we are constantly looking for meaning in our lives. The reason and motivation people have to do anything stems from the basic need to have meaning in one's life. Men and women may search for money, power, position or pleasure but it is all included in their fundamental search for meaning. 

Viktor Frankl was one of the unfortunate victims of the great embarrassment of the 20th century. He was a prisoner in a number of concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz. He tells of his experiences in the camps as a psychologist and not as a survivor. He took the time and had the state of mind to turn his imprisonment and torture  into field research to advance the understanding of the human mind and spirit. He found that men and women need something meaningful to live for, not just food and water to keep them alive. According to his observations he found that an otherwise healthy and sound individual would die as soon as they lost hope and meaning. Naturally many of the prisoners died from sickness, exposure, violence, and the gas chambers, but he said the biggest killer among the inmates was despair. 

The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl says that meaning can come from possible sources. 

1. WORK - When we are being productive and doing something significant we find great meaning in it. You can see this in people who love their jobs. It's not necessarily because they have a great fondness for their tasks or assignments, what they love about their job is that it gives their life meaning. 

2. LOVE- Having someone to love and care about adds great meaning to any life. This is why you will often see an older man follow his wife to the grave shortly after she has passed. He has lost significant meaning in his life and that's more lethal than cancer.

3. COURAGE IN DIFFICULT TIMES- "Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it." 

Frankl was one of the great pioneers in a way of thinking positively about the negative things which happen to us. His most lasting contribution to humanity may have been his overall philosophy on life. "Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you." 

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