Meanings and Feelings

Chapter 21 of Adam Khan's book, Self-Help Stuff That Works

STANLEY SCHACHTER SET UP the following experiment: He first divided his experimental subjects into two groups and gave them all a shot of adrenaline. Then the subjects mingled with Schachter's assistants, whom the subjects had been led to believe were given a shot too.

In one group, the assistants acted as if they were experiencing anxiety. In the other group, the assistants acted excited and happy. Asked what the shot had done to them, subjects in the first group said the adrenaline shot made them feel anxious; subjects in the second group said the adrenaline made them feel excited and elated.

The way the assistants acted influenced the way the subjects interpreted their experience. And it was their interpretations that made their experience pleasant or unpleasant. The adrenaline shot was the same in both groups, and caused the same effects: it made their hearts pound, dilated their eyes, sent glucose to the muscles, and shut down the digestive tract.

Both groups experienced the same physical changes, but the way the assistants acted created a different meaning for the physical changes, and those meanings made the difference between anxiety and elation.

Change the meaning of an experience and the experience changes.

The late Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and a survivor of Hitler's concentration camps, often changed the meaning of events for his patients, and it changed their lives. For example, an elderly and severely depressed man came to see Frankl. His wife had died and she had meant more to him than anything in the world.

"What would have happened," Frankl asked the man, "if you had died first, and your wife would have survived you?"


The man answered: "Oh, for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!"

"You see," said Frankl, "such a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving and mourning her."

The man didn't say anything. He shook Dr. Frankl's hand and calmly left. Frankl wrote:

Suffering ceases to be suffering in some way at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.

THE MEANINGS you make in your life can be the difference between anxiety and elation, between hopelessness and courage, between failure and success, and even, as Frankl discovered in the concentration camps, between living and dying.

You have some control over the way you interpret the events of your life. The meanings of events are not written in stone. You can create more useful meanings for yourself. All it takes is a little thought.

Interpret events in a way that helps you.

The world NEEDS more positive attitudes. If you'd like to share this page with a friend, it's easy. Use the share/email icon on top of the page or just copy the address and paste it into an email message.

Here's a conversation on how to change the way you interpret the events in your life so that you neither become a doormat nor get upset more than you need to:

The art of contolling the meanings you're making is an important skill to master. It will literally determine the quality of your life. Read more about it in:
Master the Art of Making Meaning

Expect the Best

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 2). Meanings and Feelings, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, July 24 from

Last Updated: March 30, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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