Book Review – Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

The book is a testament to the indomitable spirit of humankind. Even in the worst possibles situation humans are capable of finding meaning in life and be worthy of their suffering. Author contends that 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. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.

There is so much to take from the book. Author’s harrowing experience in the Nazi concentration camp allows him to write with conviction that we have to learn … teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. 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.

Being a pychotherapist, author was placed in a unique position within a concentration camp to analyse both the divine and base nature of humanbeings. He could see firsthand how inmates in such impossible situation coped with their suffering. Some lost their way, but others hanged on and survived. Author contends that this was solely due to the fact that survivors had something to look forward to, their life had some meaning for them. And this meaning is what allowed them to avoid certain death inspite of such difficult odds. Author concludes that man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.

Author used his unique experience to create a new theory and came up with his own school of pychotherapy called logotherapy which indeed, is a meaning-centered psychotherapy. In logotherapy the patient is actually confronted with and reoriented toward the meaning of his life. And to make him aware of this meaning can contribute much to his ability to overcome his neurosis. According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. The first, the way of achievement or accomplishment, is quite obvious. The second way of finding a meaning in life is by experiencing something—such as goodness, truth and beauty—by experiencing nature and culture or, last but not least, by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness—by loving him. The third way of finding a meaning in life is by suffering. Author contends that we must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.

It’s one of those books that make you pause and ponder of what you want from life. Or rather how you want to live your life, what gives meaning to your life. A must read for everybody looking for the difficult answers from life.

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