I recently completed Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Apparently I was late to the game as the Wikipedia page states “According to a survey conducted by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress, Man’s Search For Meaning belongs to a list of the ten most influential books in the United States.”
I know why now. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Jewish concentration camps during World War II tells his story. Frankl, a psychiatrist by trade, gives a thorough examination of the mental psyche of man during life threatening circumstances. He intermixes his findings with those from his private practice to give a balanced approach to the question “what is the meaning of life?” As you read Frank’s account of his first-hand experience in the Nazi concentration camps it’s natural to have mental anguish, frustration, anger, sadness, and wonder.
Frankl examines the heart of man both as a giver and receiver of punishment. He discusses the differences in the mental make-up of the men who survived the concentration camps and those that did not. There were patterns and Frankl uses the patterns as a basis for his teachings. He even discusses the challenges faced by those who were liberated. If you read this book, get ready for a mental battle. It’s tough reading and can really challenge your beliefs about the nature of man. But tough reading translates to rewards if you can persist. The rewards are self-examination, new learnings, and an opening for thoughtful dialogue with others.
“We had to learn ourselves and , furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the task which it constantly sets for each individual.”
The second part of the book explains the concepts in Logotherapy. That is the study that focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as man’s search for such a meaning. Frankl says that “this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.”
Frankl’s thoughts resonated with me because I recently lost both of my grandparents. They were married for 72 years and lived their lives together as one. When my grandfather saw that grandmother’s time was near he lost his reason for living. He lost his meaning and place in life. He passed-away just six hours after she did. Frankl observed similar situations in the concentration camp and in his psychiatric practice.
On page 111 he says “According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways:
by creating a work or doing a deed
by experiencing something or encountering someone
by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering”
Frankl’s words provide opportunity for examining our inner beliefs and attitudes. I used his stories to think about my faith, my relationships, and my experiences. For me, the book was a good reminder that life has a purpose and that life is a kaleidoscope of relationships. What we do with with our situation and circumstances defines us. So control what you can control like your attitude, actions, and search for meaning. Onward and forward……