“Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
3 MINUTE READ

Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl

“Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl
Print length: 161 pages. Buy on Amazon.

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.

Related Reading

“To Have or To Be”, Erich Fromm

“The Art of Loving”, Erich Fromm

“Siddhartha”, Herman Hesse

“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”, Mark Manson

TANQ entries for “Man’s Search for Meaning”

TANQ is WhyWhatHow’s growing central library of thoughts, anecdotes, notes and quotes.

An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

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.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

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.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

We can discover the meaning of 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.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

The most painful part of beatings is the insult which they imply.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

Hyper Intention: “A forced intention makes impossible why now forcibly wishes.”

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life and instead to think of ourselves as those who ere being questioned by life.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

“Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honest whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same thing.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom.

Victor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

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. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

Delusion of Reprieve: “The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

Delusion of Reprieve: “The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

Progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

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 … It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning
Arthur
Arthur is a learning freak, traveller, and writer who loves to help curious, busy people digest chewy topics fast. One of his passions is language learning. Send yourself his free Ultimate Language Learning Guide to save thousands of dollars and hours on your journey to fluency.

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