Love and the Existential Vacuum

I have recently finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl; an excellent book that is at once an account of Frankl’s time in Nazi concentration camps during WWII and an introduction to his psychotherapeutic theories of logotherapy.

According to Frankl’s logotherapy, the way to find meaning in life is to dedicate oneself to a cause (“creating a work or doing a deed”), find meaning in suffering (“the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering”), and in learning to love (“experiencing a something or encountering someone”). In fact, Frankl states that “love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire”.

Now, 60 years later, research into how we deal with existential angst is starting to show that Frankl was correct; love is actually one of the most significant ways in which we deal with existential anxiety:

In an ingenious 2002 study, [it was] found that reminding people of their demise increased their self-professed romantic commitment, that thinking about a committed relationship reduced the effects of morality salience on harsh social judgements, and that thinking about the end of a relationship increased thoughts of death.

A year later, they reviewed research on love and death and came to the conclusion that close relationships help us manage the anxiety of mortality, partly through the strength of the bond, but partly through the fact that romantic partnerships give us a symbolic way of transcending death – as families provide a way for our contribution to ‘live on’ after the final curtain.

You can’t mention Viktor Frankl (who believes that self actualisation is the effect of ‘meaning fulfilment’) without pointing out Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; a psychological theory worth a cursory browse, although please excuse me if I refrain from comment.