Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning

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Highlights and quotes from the book by Dr. Viktor Frankl

Have you ever been impacted by a book, but were unable to relay specifically what impacted you? I find myself recommending a book, yet only being able to share vague summaries and overarching themes as to why it was an impactful book. This is still beneficial for directing someone toward a good read, yet not everyone has the urge or ability to read every book recommended.

I have come to find great joy in reading, and part of that joy comes from gaining information or insight that I can share with another person. I love exchanging ideas with people, and in that exchange, we can add to each other’s lives. My favorite conversations are based on story.

The story of our lives is unique, each one of us, though we do not always realize this. Sharing the experiences that have formed us, or are forming us, make for meaningful connections with each other. That being said, I began taking notes and highlighting passages when I read an impactful book, and sometimes that means going through it a second time.

In this article, O would like to share quotes and favorite insights from the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl. Most folks have likely heard of this book, and it has made its way into countless favorite book lists. It is one book that has had a continuing impact in my life as it has brought both a perspective on life and ideas that can turn our minds toward meaning.

This book is a story of concentration camp survival during the holocaust. This book spends less time on the specific horrors that took place, but rather, it captures the day to day life of a prisoner and the struggles for existence one would face. Mixed into this first-person retelling of their experience is Dr. Frankl’s development and understanding of his logotherapy. So without further ado, here are my highlights and favorite insights from the book.

*Though Dr. Frankl’s writing uses masculine verbiage throughout, it is intended for all, ie; Man’s search for meaning is a broad term to encompass all of humanity.

Experiences in a Concentration Camp

If someone now asked us of the truth of Dostevski’s statement that flatly defines man as a being who can get used to anything, we would reply, “Yes, a man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how.”

I think it was Lessing who once said, “There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose.” An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.

Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human though and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.

My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing – which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.

We were carried away by nature’s beauty, which we had missed for so long.

In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of ultimate purpose.

The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living.

Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually.

An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature.

But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in a man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned from him.

But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. With suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

In a different connection, we have already spoken of the tendency there was to look into the past, to help make the present, with all its horrors less real. But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist.

Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.

Those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man – his courage and hope, or lack of them – and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect.

Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.

It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.

“Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual.

No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny.

But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.

No one has the right to do wrong, even if wrong was done to them.

Logotherapy in a Nutshell

The term “existential may be used in three ways: to refer to (1) existence itself, i.e., the specifically human mode of being; (2) the meaning of existence; and (3) the striving to find a concrete meaning in personal existence, that is to say, the will to meaning.

Man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium.

In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system.

…being human always points, and is directed to something, or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter.

The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.

For what them matters it o bear witness to human potential at its best, which is to transform personal tragedy into a triumph. to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves.

The three avenues for arriving at meaning in life:

  1. Creating a work or doing a deed
  2. experiencing something or encountering someone
  3. Turn a personal tragedy into a triumph

I hope that these highlights have brought insight into your journey for meaning.

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