For some time now, I had been curious about Victor Frankl’s stories. Seeing his quotes and ideas mentioned so often in the articles, videos and books I consume made me want to dive and seek the source for myself. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl dives into his own story as he experienced the horrors of the holocaust during the Second World War. Going through situations that most of us could never imagine made him realize what he considers to be Man’s strongest desire: to find meaning in life.
Although it clearly is not an “easy read”, I would strongly recommend you to read it if you are in a quest to find meaning in your own life, as I am.
What is Man's Search for Meaning about?
Released in 1946, right after the end of World War II, Man's Search for Meaning relates the story and thoughts of Victor E.Frankl as a prisoner in the concentration camps of Auschwitz. In the second part of the book, Frankl also details the psychiatric theory he developed: Logotherapy.
“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.” — Victor E. Frankl
Key lessons from Man's Search for Meaning
Man’s Search from Meaning changed the way I think in many ways and it made me realize of the strength we have as humans in any situation, to be our own masters and choose our own response, whether we are in a situation full of joy or sorrow.
Lesson #1: We always are response-able
This is the most inspiring lesson I got from reading this book. It’s not the circumstances that matter, but how we react to them, the response we choose.
Prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the last few years of the war, Victor E. Frankl experienced his own load of sorrow and pain. He saw his wife taken away without knowing if he would ever see her again, he saw comrades being sent to the Gas chambers and feared he would be sent there himself. At the level where many of us live in 2021, it’s hard to imagine experiencing so much pain, as it could destroy any man.
Yet, Frankl survived, physically and mentally. As he explains throughout the story, before his capture, he had been working on a book that was confiscated when he entered the Auschwitz camps. Ever since, he made it his goal, if he survived, to write it all over again.
« Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. » — Victor E. Frankl
Lesson #2: Sources for meaning
We often overestimate the outside world and its ability to make us happy. So, we chase money, fame, physical possessions, and power, only to find ourselves empty, discouraged, and lost.
« Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. » — Victor E. Frankl
Frankl suggests that happiness or success cannot be a goal in itself but rather a by-product of things we are doing, of meaning we find in our own actions. I mean, think about it: when have you felt your life to hold more meaning? When have you felt connected to your superior being? What did you do to get there?
Lesson #3: What is Logotherapy?
Logotherapy is a branch of Psychotherapy developed by Victor Frankl where the individual is at the center. Derived from logos, which signifies “meaning”, Frankl’s theory is about helping the patient find meaning in his/her own life.
« When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden. » — Victor E. Frankl
According to Logotherapy, one can hope to find meaning in their own life in three ways :
- By creating a work or doing a deed
- By experiencing something or encountering someone
- By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
Should you read Man's Search for Meaning?
When I decided to read this book, I really didn't know what to expect. I had heard about it a lot, notably through quotes, but I didn't know much more about its content. Although not the easiest to read, I really enjoyed reading this book and I got a lot of insights from it on the subjects of history, philosophy, meaning. I can already say that reading Man's Search for Meaning changed the way I see and experience the world.
Interestingly enough, in the few books, I have read since Frankl's ideas about meaning and Logotherapy have been systematically mentioned.
« For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. » — Victor E. Frankl
The book opened my eyes to what life is about. It's not about pursuing happiness or success, it's not about anything tangible even, it's rather about the meaning we take from what we experience. The reason why we do the things we do, whether it's running a business, pursuing a degree, or just surviving.=
If you are interested in this book, you might consider reading or watching :
- 📘 Ikigai | by Hector García & Francesc Miralles
- 📘 Daily Stoic | by Ryan Holliday
- 🎥 How to create the life you want (and find your North Star) | Nathaniel Drew
What about you, have you ever read Man’s Search for Meaning? What would you say is the meaning of life?