Man's Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning

by Viktor E. Frankl

This is one of the most influential books in psychiatric literature since the work of Sigmund Freud. In a deep and moving essay, Frankl, an Auschwitz prisoner, describes the three years he spent at Auschwitz and how it prompted him to discover the strongest of human drives—the pursuit of meaning and the reason for life. In the second part of this extraordinary work, the author presents psychotherapeutic methods, including logotherapy, a therapy alternative to Freudian psychoanalysis.

Summary Notes

Chapter 1: Logotherapy

“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!”

Logotherapy is a form of psychotherapy concentrated mainly on the future and the meaning of life. Logotherapy, or as some call it the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy”, focuses on the sense of human existence as well as on man’s search for meaning. According to logotherapy, the pursuit to find meaning in life is man’s primary motivational force. 

The meaning of life can be discovered in three ways: 1) by creative work or action, 2) through experience or contact with another person, and 3) by how we endure unavoidable suffering. Our lives pose a lot of questions, and the only way to answer them is to be accountable and responsible for our lives. The role of logotherapy is to widen our field of vision in order to see and realize the whole spectrum of life’s potential meaning.

Actions to take

Chapter 2: Sense of suffering

“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

The meaning of life can be found even when we find ourselves in a hopeless situation: face to face with a destiny that cannot be changed. One of the basic assumptions of logotherapy is that a person's main goal is not to seek pleasure or avoid pain, but rather to see a meaning in life.

Suffering is in no way necessary to find meaning. It is possible to experience the meaning of life despite suffering (of course, it is inevitable).

In accepting the challenge of suffering with courage, a person is able to see meaning in his life until the last moment and he retains this ability literally until the end. In other words, the meaning of life is unconditional because it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering.

A man has the ability to creatively turn the negative sides of life into something positive and constructive. He makes the best of any given situation.

Actions to take

Chapter 3: Life’s transitoriness

“The transitoriness of our existence in no way makes it meaningless. But it does constitute our responsibleness; for everything hinges upon our realizing the essentially transitory possibilities.”

Man constantly makes his choice about the countless potentials that appear to him. Which of them will be condemned to non-being and which will be realized? Which choice will be forged into fact, forever and ever? 

Awareness of the irreversibility of human life impacts our chances to take the right path. By using a given situation, we realize the potential meaning of the situation. And this realization is irreversible. We save it for the past, in which it will find its worthy place. 

Everyone has his own unique vocation or mission to accomplish a particular task. We have to take into account that no one will replace us in this. We’re not going to get a second chance to repeat our life. The “right” moment will never return. So don't hesitate; just start acting! Do not wait for the right moment. The "right” moment may never come and you will lose the opportunity to do it!

Actions to take

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