Man’s Search For Meaning was written by Viktor Frankl. It is a book about men surviving horrible conditions in the Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany and what enabled them to keep on living while others died. Viktor spent years in four Concentration Camps in the 1940s and he used his time observing other prisoners like himself enduring the cold weather with little clothing, going without food, working long hours and doing heavy labor, undergoing torture, verbal abuse, and being separated from the people they loved.
What Increased the odds of survival was having hope in the future and knowing why they wanted to live. Frankl kept himself alive by having hope he would once again see his wife, and he believed he could give much to the world through teaching others the psychological aspects of surviving the terrors of Concentration Camps. He believed his observations and experiences could help others who were experiencing despair. He created a kind of therapy he called Logotherapy. He believed:
- Life was not a quest for pleasure or power, but a quest for finding meaning in one’s existence.
- Prisoners were more likely to survive if they had important work to accomplish, loved ones they cared about and looked forward to seeing in the future, or they found meaning in their suffering.
- People could lose every thing, and yet retain the ability to choose how they would respond to difficult circumstances.
- Happiness could be achieved by being dedicated to something greater than oneself.
- The inmates discovered their inner lives became more intense; they experienced art, nature, and beauty more intensely; humor helped them come through difficulties; pre-occupation with concrete things in the environment helped them cope with pain and loneliness; they took on the responsibility of taking care of each other; how they bore their suffering really mattered; and if they could see a future goal they could look forward to, they could survive.
- Frankl found the meaning of life was taking responsibility to find the right answers to problems and fulfilling the tasks that give meaning to one’s existence.
- Frankl saw mental health as the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish.
In summary, Viktor Frankl wrote that man discovers meaning in life by: creating a work or doing a good deed; experiencing something greater through art, nature, and beauty; loving someone; transforming a personal tragedy into a triumph; and turning life’s negatives into something positive.1
I enjoyed reading this book. For such a little book, it packs a powerful message.
1 Frankl, Viktor E. 2006. Man’s Search For Meaning. 25 Beacon Street. Boston, Massachusetts, 02108-2892. Beacon Press.