Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who lived through the Holocaust, wrote this simple but deep and thoughtful book. Frankl created Logotherapy, a type of existential psychology. His books and presentations have been called “the most inspiring on finding meaning in life and in suffering,” and he has received numerous awards for them. Frankl was forced to work in four separate concentration camps between the years 1942 and 1945, one of which was Auschwitz. During this time, Frankl’s parents, brother, and pregnant wife all perished. Frankl contends that while pain is inevitable, we have the power to choose how we respond to it, find meaning in our hardships, and go forward with renewed purpose, drawing from his personal experiences and those of the patients he treated later in his career. Frankl’s theory, called “logotherapy” after the Greek word for “meaning,” says that the most important thing in life is not pleasure, as Freud said.
Book Title— Man’s Search For Meaning
Author— Viktor E Frankl
Date of Reading— November 2022
Table of Contents
What Is Being Said in Detail
PART 1. Experiences in a Concentration Camp
There have been many stories about the horrible things that happened in concentration camps, but this book is about what people did every day in the camps and how it changed their minds.
Every day, the prisoners fought to stay alive physically, emotionally, and mentally. When the transport units got to the camp, they took the sick and weak prisoners to be killed or worked to death right away. They did everything they could to avoid being put on the list, even if that meant someone else would take their place. Officials didn’t seem to care about death because everyone looked the same to them. Survival meant that they didn’t have to think about morals or ethics. All they wanted was to stay alive for their families and to protect their peers.
After being admitted, while living in the camp every day, and after being released and set free are the three main times when people can talk more about how they feel about camp life.
Following Admission: Shock
In the first phase, people were shocked. Frankl and the other prisoners were shocked when they heard they were going to Auschwitz. Most people know about the gas chambers, crematoria, and killings at Auschwitz. After getting on the train cars, there was some grotesque humor, and Frankl thought right away that the prisoners looked good and seemed happy. He started to think that life in the camp might not be so bad after all. This was called a “fantasy of reprieve” because they thought and hoped that their lives would not be too bad. Prisoners stole the newcomers’ belongings, especially their jewelry. As new prisoners, they were shocked when they were split into two groups: those who could work and those who were too weak or sick to work. The weak and sick were sent to a special camp, which turned out to be the gas chambers. Ten percent of the healthier prisoners were sent to a real bath.
Even though the new prisoners had a dark sense of humor, their hopes and dreams were slowly shattered. When they had nothing left of their old lives, were always at risk of dying, and had no hope, suicide seemed like the only option. This became a sign that a prisoner was moving on from the first stage of shock and into the second.
Day-to-day Life in the Camp: Apathy
The most painful feelings that inmates have had to deal with are an overwhelming longing for home, family, friends, and their old lives, as well as disgust at their living conditions, both inside and out. Because the convicts had been through so much pain, their feelings had become so dulled that they had become apathetic. As a way to protect themselves, they learned to hide their feelings, which led to violence and death. At first, it disgusted them to see their friends get beat up, but after a while, they got used to it and stopped looking away. The worst kind of abuse was not physical violence or beatings, but the mental pain that came from being treated unfairly.
Frankl’s time in a concentration camp made him more spiritual, which showed up in the form of love when he thought about his wife. Even after being abused, Frankl kept coming back to the idea that love goes far beyond a person’s body. Each prisoner’s inner life grew, and they found new ways to enjoy the beauty of art and nature.
The character test was the most difficult part of being in prison for the inmates. They wanted some time alone to think. They only wanted to eat and avoid getting in trouble.
The prisoners could let camp life rob them of their inner selves and become victims of their situation, or they could rise above their situation and learn from it. In the end, it was clear that each prisoner’s personality was not only shaped by the camp but also by a choice they made on their own. What gives life meaning is being able to choose what happens to us mentally and spiritually. An active life lets a man shape and reach his goals through creative work, while a passive life lets him find happiness in art, beauty, or nature. Even if a man doesn’t have access to either of these things, he can still have “excellent moral behavior.” When you think about what life is all about, you can see that if there is a point to it, there must also be a point to suffering. Suffering even gives people the chance to add more complexity to their lives, as well as the chance to remember or lose their dignity and character.
For the captives to stay alive, they had to keep reminding themselves that their loved ones were waiting for them outside the camp. Others found that this helped them focus on their work or other activities. Their responsibilities to other people or to their jobs gave them a strong sense of purpose.
Release and Liberation
After they escaped, the survivors, including Frankl, had a period of complete rest. But they had lost some of their ability to feel pleasure and excitement, so they had to learn how to feel those things again.
On the other hand, the body was starving. The people who made it out were able to eat for hours at a time, enjoying the food they had missed. Frankl’s emotional breakdown didn’t happen until a few days after he ate and got back to normal life. He finally learned to be okay with being on his own.
When the survivors went back into society, they found that many people didn’t care what they had been through. Some would just shrug and say that they had been through similar things in similar ways. As a result, this made many of the survivors angry at their experiences and at society as a whole. They didn’t understand why they had to go through such pain, and they stopped believing in freedom when they realized that their suffering didn’t end when they were set free. Many people found out that they had lost family members or their homes, which were the only things that had helped them get through everything.
PART 2. LOGOTHERAPY IN A NUTSHELL
In contrast to psychoanalysis, logotherapy is less rigid and focused on the self. Instead, it focuses on what will happen in the future and how important it will be to make that happen. In other words, logotherapy is a type of therapy that focuses on meaning. Logotherapy helps people figure out what their lives are all about.
The Will to Meaning
The desire for meaning is put at the center of a person’s life, not just as a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual wants. Each person’s meaning is different, and only that person can live up to it. According to Frankl, “Man is capable of living and even dying for the sake of his beliefs and principles.” A recent survey found that 89% of respondents said they needed “something” to live for, while 61% said they had something or someone they would be willing to sacrifice their life for. In a survey of almost 8,000 students in the United States that was done by Johns Hopkins University, 78 percent said that their main goal was to “find a purpose and meaning in their lives,” while 16 percent said that making a lot of money was very important to them.
When a person can’t meet her need for meaning, she will feel existential frustration. This term can be used to talk about: Existence itself, as shown by the human form of being, and the meaning of existence. The “will to meaning” is another name for the desire to find meaning in one’s life. This kind of frustration can lead to “noogenic neuroses,” which come from the Greek word noos, which means “mind.” They are the exact opposite of the psychogenic neuroses that are usually seen in Freudian psychoanalysis.
Existential problems can lead to noogenic neuroses, and logotherapy, which is different from psychotherapy, focuses on the human side of things.
From this point of view, existential frustration is neither a mental illness nor a disease. Logotherapy tries to help people find meaning in their lives by revealing the hidden “logos,” or meanings, in their lives. Logotherapy is different from psychoanalysis because it tries to find out what people really want from the inside out.
Logotherapy doesn’t try to find balance; instead, it pushes the person to move from a state of laziness toward a goal they want to reach. This conflict is also referred to by its other name, noö-dynamics, which means “existential dynamics in a polar field of tension,” where one pole stands for a meaningful goal and the other for the person who achieves it. Frankl said that his love and duty to his wife were what gave his life in the camp meaning and helped him get through it.
The Existential Vacuum
An individual is not bound by any predetermined set of actions, dictated either by instinct or by precedent. And most of the time, people don’t know what they really want to do with their lives. As a result, individuals would either conform to what other people do (conformism) or do what other people want them to do (totalitarianism).
Boredom can be a sign of a lack of meaning in life. Then, it’s up to each person to figure out what’s important to them and how to spend their free time on this work. Pensioners who think they don’t have a purpose in life without work may show this in a number of ways, such as depression, addiction, or a will to power that shows up in the form of making money. People seem to use traditional neuroses when they have an unsatisfied will to meaning. Classic psychogenic neuroses will result from attempts to fill this emptiness with primitive urges and emotions.
The Meaning of Life
You can’t think of the meaning of life in general terms because it’s different for each person and at different times. The goal is to figure out what matters to a person. Because of this, a person’s meaning becomes something that only they can fulfill. It is only then that a person can answer back and take responsibility for their own meaning, which is the very core of human existence.
The Essence of Human Existence
If you’re going to live as if it’s your second chance, you have to face the fact that it’s your job to figure out what your life is all about. So, the logotherapist helps patients see all the ways they could find meaning in their lives and encourages them to choose the meaning for which she wants to be responsible. Because of this, it is very important to realize that the real meaning of life lies in the world, not in your own head. This is called the “self-transcendence of human existence,” and it means that people can only find meaning in their lives by interacting with things other than themselves. In other words, you have to forget about yourself and focus on your responsibilities to others if you want your life to be worth living. In three ways, logotherapy helps a person find out what their life is all about:
- By completing a task or participating in an activity
- As a result of meeting something or someone. One’s knowledge of nature and culture, or one’s love for and appreciation of another person’s uniqueness.
- How they react to pain they can’t avoid.
The Meaning of Love
By loving another person, you can get to know your deepest self, and by loving another person, you can get to know their uniqueness and essence. This will help them see the potential they still haven’t reached. The loving person is then in a unique position to help and encourage their loved one to reach their full potential by making them more aware of what they can and should be. In logotherapy, love is more than just getting what you want sexually. But love can be shown in more ways than just through sex.
The Meaning of Suffering
Realizing that suffering has value is the most difficult thing to do, yet it reveals humanity’s extraordinary capacity to turn a personal tragedy into something positive. Unavoidable circumstances will push you to grow as a person. Frankl talked about an old patient who couldn’t get out of his deep depression after the death of his wife. He told the patient that she would have been in so much pain if he had died first. And that by staying alive, he had spared her this pain, even though it had cost him something. Even though it wasn’t typical therapy, he had a big impact on how the old man saw life and what he saw as the point of his pain. Logotherapy says that there is still meaning in your life even if you can’t avoid suffering. It does not say that you have to go through pain to find meaning.
With the aid of logotherapy, sufferers are able to see that their pain is unknowable by any human being. To make his point, Frankl used the example of a stabbed monkey in an intravenous drug experiment. The monkey can’t understand its pain because it doesn’t have a lot of mental capacity. A person, on the other hand, can understand why it’s important to make medicines that save lives. Then he wonders if our pain might have a deeper meaning that we don’t know about.
Aside from sadness, death may seem to take away the purpose of life, but in hindsight, possibilities are just temporary parts of life. Even though people only live a short time, that doesn’t make death meaningless. Instead, we should think about the options we have and decide what we want to be kept after we die. So, logotherapy is optimistic instead of pessimistic. The person then notices how quickly the days go by and realizes that each day is richer because of how happy they are.
Logotherapy as a Technique
Psychodynamic interpretation and philosophical understanding are not enough to get rid of fears like death and agoraphobia. In such instances, logotherapy appears to be a unique technique. Think about anticipatory anxiety, which is the fear of what might happen in the future. When someone walks into a room, she is more likely to fall if she is afraid of falling. People with sexual insecurities often can’t feel pleasure or orgasm because they are too focused on making it happen. Sexual pleasure is a side effect that goes wrong when it becomes the main goal. Instead of hyper-intention, logotherapy also looks at “hyper-reflection,” which means paying too much attention. Logotherapy helps people want what they fear by making it impossible for them to want what they don’t want. The patient can then use his or her sense of humor to get away from the situation. It has been shown to help with both insomnia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The Group’s Nervousness
Every generation has a group neurosis that needs to be treated in its own way. The current one is the existential vacuum, which is defined as a private and personal form of nihilism in which people think that their lives don’t matter. The correct method of administering psychotherapy, then, must be outside of the prevailing collective mentality in order to avoid supporting the patients’ preexisting worldview. Saying that existence is nothing in and of itself is risky because it could make people feel like they are nothing more than the result of biological, social, or psychological influences from the outside world. But as a neuroscientist, Frankl knows how much things can affect a person. He could see that men were able to deal with and survive what seemed to be the worst things that could happen.
Critique of Pan-Determinism
One of the most destructive ideas, in Frankl’s view, is pan-determinism, the concept that human beings are destined to succumb to any situation they face. Self-determination is the idea that a man can choose whether to give in to his circumstances or fight against them. Because of this, we can change at any time, no matter what our physical, mental, or social circumstances are.
Frankl saw that the biggest problem with modern psychiatry was that psychiatrists focused on how a patient worked and saw the mind as something that could be changed. They lost sight of the person behind the illness they were trying to cure. Humans, on the other hand, are a mix of different traits that can change on their own. The qualities that define a man are those that he cultivates inside himself.
THE CASE FOR TRAGIC OPTIMISM
The three main characteristics of human existence that can be summed up in the words “suffering,” “guilt,” and “death” are known as the “tragic triad” in the field of logotherapy. One who maintains optimism in the face of these three factors is said to exhibit tragic optimism. So, it’s up to each individual to make the most of their circumstances by turning their problems into opportunities. The tragic triad, which states that one must transform suffering into a human success or accomplishment, change oneself for the better from guilt, and obtain a cause to behave responsibly from the knowledge that life is short and death is unavoidable, is considered by tragic optimists.
The tendency to give up is especially strong when someone is hyperintentional but still cannot locate their target. For example, they can refuse to work and prepare themselves mentally for death in a concentration camp. In today’s society, this might show up as a form of existential anxiety, which could be reflected in people’s willingness to experiment with substances. The current sort of apathy will result from humans having enough to live on but nothing to live for; they will have the means but no meaning. Depression, anger, and addiction are just some of the neuroses that can result from an empty sense of purpose in life. Frankl found that giving the patient purpose in life was often all that was needed to prevent suicide attempts.
A person’s moral compass serves as a guide for making decisions in all aspects of life, and it should be used in the same manner that a ruler is used. One’s own values serve as a standard against which to evaluate the given circumstances; these values are inherent to the person and are therefore not applied deliberately, but are instead an integral element of one’s biological inheritance as a human being.
Even at the worst of times and in the midst of unavoidable suffering, it is possible to find a reason to keep going.
Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes
“The central theme of existentialism: to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in suffering and a purpose in dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is. Each must find out for himself and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes.”
“On the average, only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, has lost all scruples in their fight for existence. They were prepared to use any means, honest or otherwise, even brutal force, theft and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves. We who have come back, by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles—whatever one may choose to call them—we know: the best of us did not return.”
“In spite of the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of live in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.”
“This intensification of the inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of existence, by letting him escape into the past.”
“Psychological observations of the prisoners have shown that only the men who allowed their inner hold on their moral and spiritual selves to subside eventually fell victim to the camp’s degenerating influences.”
“Often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man, the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.”
“Thus, it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, a tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become.”
“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.”
“Once an individual’s search for meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering and what happens if one’s groping for a meaning has been in vain? This may well result in a fatal condition.”
“Logotherapy teaches that there are three main avenues which one arrives at a meaningful life. The first is by creating a work or by doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone. In other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love.”
“Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself and by so doing, change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.”
Book Review (Personal Opinion):
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is an extraordinary book and really gave me a sense of encouragement. It demonstrates that despite our hardships, we can each find our own unique purpose in life and, in doing so, understand our place in the world and the reasons we should keep striving to improve it. Even though it may take some time to fully appreciate it, you are loved, worthy, and a warrior. The book is not just sugarcoated but makes arguments about all the points it’s claiming.
In the book it is stated the importance of self-care is on all fronts of our life (emotional, physical, and spiritual) and how is crucial for us to feel at peace. In today’s fast-paced, always-connected world, it’s simple to feel disoriented, overburdened, and inadequate when compared to others. In this situation, you must prioritize your own needs over those of others. Do what makes you happy, not what others think you should do. Don’t let little, insignificant, or self-centered concerns get in your way.
If You Want to Learn More
Here is an interview with Viktor Frankl on Finding meaning in difficult times (Interview with Dr. Viktor Frankl)
How I’ve Implemented the Ideas from The Book
Since I read the book, I reflected about my life and the importance of being resilient in crucial times of our life’s’. Our happiness not only depends on the things happening in our life, but it is mainly ruled by mentality and the way we see life. That´s why, since reading the book when things do not go as planned on a bad sense, I always ask myself what this situation can teach me. I try to stop myself from victimizing myself and just embracing that life has many ups and downs and the bad moments will always pass.
One Small Actionable Step You Can Do
After finishing this book and becoming aware that even in the midst of difficulty or anguish, it is possible to perceive the best that life has to offer, the first thing you can do is give careful consideration to the positive things that are already in your immediate surroundings. We need to direct our attention on the positive aspects of our lives, including our friends, our families, and even our pets. It doesn’t have to be about people. It can also be about things. Possibly eating your favorite dish or simply sitting outside and watching the sun shining. Every day presents a fresh chance to show affection for the people in your life and to connect with the world around you. We need to keep in mind, in a constructive way, that life is a gift, and that no matter how much suffering or sorrow we experience, there is always something to be gained from it.