Review of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning is a book that is quite deep and took me a while to read. In fact, I finished a few other books in the middle of this one because I did not want to rush through it and miss stuff.

The first 65% of this book consists largely of Viktor’s first hand accounts of what the Holocaust was like as a Jewish man stuck in concentration camps. This part of the book was a real gripping page turner…amazingly emotional and hard to put down.

Some thought that if you put people in the worst possible conditions their individuality would melt away and they would all display the same faults and cruelty and selfishness…but the underlying story Viktor wants to share is that each day we CHOOSE how we act and if we have the courage to become worthy of our sufferings. If that is true in concentation camps then it is surely true in regular everyday life. Environmental factors and biological factors are factors in shaping our days, but not factors in how we CHOOSE to live, we decide our attitude and if we want to maintain spiritual freedom.

Condemed men can have a “delusion of reprive” where up until the last moments of their lives they can hope destiny may not be met.

“The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

Perceived injustice can cause far more lasting emotional pain than the raw physical violence often associated with it. The more awful a person’s environment the more they seek (and find) beauty in things that allow them to escape, even if only for a moment.

“The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life. But how many free men, let alone prisoners, posses it?”

When people are stripped of their traditional societal status and divided into ranks people of a slightly higher rank may suffer from delusions of grandeur.

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

He also quoted this killer Nietzsche quote “he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

The second part of the book is an introduction of logotherapy, a form of psychotherapy based on “a will to meaning.” This is the part of the book where I had to slow down and read it a couple times to make sure I did not miss anything…the 2nd and 3rd parts of this book are much more dense than the 1st part because they do not have as much backdrop narrative story to tell.

Some forms of psychotherapy view tension as bad, but natural tension between what we are and what we aspire to become is natural (and needed) to help push us to be the people we are worthy of becoming. If there is no tention in your life then you are not growing.

Given how efficent society is many of us are far beyond self-sustaining, leaving a void for what to do with our time. An exestential vacuum is a leading cause for depression, addiction, and anger.

“Success, like happiness, cannot be persued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended consequence of one’s personal 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.”

Rather than asking the meaning of life man should answer for the meaning of his own life. “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!”

Some suffering is unavoidable, and man can find meaning and push himself to grow through enduring such suffering.

Sometimes our fear of something creates anxiety and brings about the symptoms of the end problem, which reinforces the fear, and those mutually self-reinforcing behaviors spiral out of control. To break the cycle caused by hyper-intention we can use paradoxical intentions to wish for the poor outcome excessively hard…which reduces the perceived depth of fear and anxiety, and thus breaks the cycle (this strategy can be used to overcome a wide array of issues like sweating, stuttering, and some sexual issues).

The book finishes with “The Case for a Tragic Optimism.”

Western culture often makes the mistake of associating a person’s value/usefulness to society as being interchangible with their value as a person. But you are more than your job, and there is nothing wrong with having dignity even if you are not currently slaving away for the benefit of society as a whole. One day your (and my) utility will diminish, but it does not mean we become less of a person.

“An optimism in the face of tragedy and in the view of human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.”

5 star rating on this book…great great work of art that also happens to be non-fiction.