Perfect for you if:
- You’re curious about why we exist or what it all means
- You sometimes / often struggle with apathy or boredom
- Despite recently accomplishing a major goal you still feel empty inside
This short, moving and life-changing book was written by Jewish-Austrian neurologist / psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl.
The book’s brutal and honest first hand accounts of life and loss in a concentration camp (worth reading in and of itself) are a vehicle for Frankl’s wider theories and deep insights into man’s search for meaning. These theories were his life work (even before his transportation to Auschwitz) and are at the core of Logotherapy (logos = meaning), a major school of modern psychotherapy.
The Meaning of Life
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”, Friedrich Nietzsche
The essence of Frankl’s theory is as simple as it is universal and runs as follows:
Man’s primary motivational force is the striving for meaning in one’s life.
A frustrated will to meaning leads to an existential vacuum that is the mass neurosis of the present time.
This existential vacuum can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism and manifests itself primarily in states of boredom and anxiety.
But there is no objective or general meaning to life. We cannot strive for meaning as we cannot strive for success or happiness.
Instead, meaning (Why) ensues primarily from active purpose (a What) which can be a thing (a work or deed) or a person (love or responsibility).
However, life also questions us constantly with a passive stream of Whats (including unavoidable suffering) to which we must respond and from which meaning can also ensue.
In this case, a strong individualistic sense of self, of Who we are, becomes the Why for how we respond to those Whats.
No matter what external limitations we face, we are always free to choose Who we are and how we respond.
This allows us to tap into an unassailable source of inner freedom and personal value.
A Story About Fate
A short story from the book about fate that enjoyed I so much I thought it worth preserving/sharing:
A rich and mighty Persian once walked in his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried that he had just encountered Death, who had threatened him.
He begged his master to give him his fastest horse so that he could make haste and flee to Teheran, which he could reach that same evening. The master consented and the servant galloped off on the horse.
On returning to his house the master himself met Death, and questioned him, “Why did you terrify and threaten my servant?” “I did not threaten him; I only showed surprise in still finding him here when I planned to meet him tonight in Teheran,” said Death.