Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl -Summary
This is one of the most heartbreaking books I have ever read. It is a book about survival. It is also a book on how to find happiness, contentment, and meaning in your life. It is a book on how to survive hard times. It is about how to find the right attitude. Most importantly, it is about how to find meaning even in the toughest times.
While I cried my eyes out in the first part of the book, I learned some great lessons in the second part. Frankl uses studies to show how people who find meaning in life derive more happiness. This is similar to what I had written about finding meaning in your life. I apply some of these lessons in my life and share some helpful tips with you.
Surviving the holocaust
Victor Frankl was one of the survivors of the holocaust. In the Nazi concentration camps, Viktor Frankl lost all he has ever loved, and all he knew. He lost his wife, his home, his profession, his manuscript for a book he was writing, but he was determined not to lose his humanity and dignity. This is a story about finding the strength to survive even in the dimmest times.
“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How”-Nietzsche
In the Nazi concentration camps, while there were diseases and hunger, many died because they lost all hope to live. The first half of the book recounts Frankl’s experience in the concentration camps. He tells harrowing stories about the suffering he and other mates endured in the hands of SS officers, as well as other Jews, appointed in top positions in the camps. I would recommend that you read this book to get Frankl’s perspective towards life, suffering, faith, and hope.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”-Viktor Frankl.
How you can find meaning in life
The second part is what I would like to talk about. Frankl talks about finding meaning in life and how this can help us live through things we cannot control. He reminds us that
He introduces logotherapy, derived from the Greek word logos for meaning. Logotherapy, therefore, focuses on striving to find meaning in one’s life and it is a basic motivation in man. It does this by making us aware of our responsibleness so that we understand ourselves to be responsible.
We identify and actualize meaning to our life, we get a reason for living and we are less distressed.
According to logotherapy, we discover meaning in life by;
I. Creating work or doing a deed
II. Experiencing something or encountering someone
III. The attitude we take to avoid suffering
Creating work or doing a deed
When we do something, a deed, or action, we get meaning in life. When you have had a productive day, you feel better about life or about any situation than when you have been lazing around all day. This is why you are feeling low or sad, you are encouraged to get something done so it can improve your mood. In a study, depressed people that were jobless were less depressed and found meaning when they got involved in voluntary work. This work may not have been rewarding to them financially, but it gave them something to feel good about.
Experiencing something or encountering someone
In the same way, when you experience something, such as beauty and goodness, you find meaning in life. Love is one experience that gives us meaning in life. At the depth of depression, a person feels that they can no longer feel anything. They fail to see the beauty of life, the goodness of others, and their world becomes bland. However, when you experience something, such as feelings of love, it does give people some meaning and this is why relationships are an essential part of our happiness.
The attitude we take to avoid suffering
We also find meaning in life when we are confronted with a hopeless situation or things that are not within our control. Situations, such as loss, are so devastating that they give us meaning in life. Victor Frankl gives an example whereby a patient was so devastated by the loss of his wife, he could not overcome the terrible sense of loss. While debating how to help the patient, Frankl asked “What could have happened, if you had died first and your wife would have survived you?”
“Oh” the patient responded, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!”
Then Frankl let the patient see him surviving his wife, he spared her great suffering. This way, the patient found meaning in tragedy and was able to go overcome his loss or at least handle it better. He changed his attitude towards what had happened. Here, Frankl gives a disclaimer that suffering is not necessary to find meaning, but one can find meaning in spite of suffering in events where suffering is unavoidable.
How Frankl found meaning
In the concentration camps, Frankl’s meaning came from loss. Having lost his wife and his family, as well as a manuscript of a book he was writing, he was determined to have something survive him; either his mental child or a physical child. His meaning was to help others find meaning in theirs.
One major life lesson Frankl gives in this book is that your life has its own meaning and it is up to you to find it in any given moment. There is no one blanket or general meaning in life. Your life’s meaning is dependent on your decisions and situations. You have to find it in different situations to get the strength and will to live.
I cannot express the lessons from this book as well as the author does. You will have to first understand his experiences at the concentration camps in order to understand the need for meaning. I recommend man’s search for meaning to everyone, whether you are 20, 45 or 70. At some point in our existence, we need to constantly find meaning to keep going, and it is through the meaning we overcome adversity. This book teaches us that life never ceases to have meaning; even suffering ceases to be suffering at the time it finds meaning.
Key lesson: No matter the circumstance, you always have the last of human freedoms: to choose your attitude.