Viktor Frankl would know about this. He earned a M.D. and Ph. D at the University of Vienna in which he specialized in psychiatry and neurology but was taken prisoner during WWII and spent almost two years in concentration camps to which he experienced first-hand the total emotional and physical destruction of the human spirit. Through this experience he noticed how some able bodied men would die while fatigued men would surpass their existence. Why? Perhaps they had a reason, a will, to endure what it took to survive.
“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How” ~ Viktor Frankel
Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, or a quest of power, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.
Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning; in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another), and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it. Man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.
In Frankl’s case, he lived off the memoires of his beloved wife. Remembering everything he loved about her, the conversations they had what they did together, anything that took his mind and feelings to a positive place to escape his daily torture.
He came to the conclusion, in retrospect, that 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. We are never left with nothing as long as we retain the freedom to choose how we will respond.
He awakened to the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers, the truth, that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. The greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.
He understood after having nothing left in his world, except his body, that he may still know bliss, if only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter dissolution, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his suffering in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplations of the image he carries of his beloved achieve fulfillment. For the first time in his life he understood the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an ultimate glory.”
You can read all about his ordeal and revelations in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”