9 out of 10.
Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning documents his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II and his meaning centered therapeutic practice called logotherapy. Here are 8 key learnings/lessons that I took from the book:
1. “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,”
Viktor recounts many prisoners who lost their “why” and quickly lost their life within a matter of days. By having a greater sense of purpose, one can overcome anything. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Logotherapy is an attempt to assist the patient to find meaning in their life.
According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways:
- By creating a work or doing a deed (doing something significant);
- By experiencing something or encountering someone (in love – caring for another person)
- By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering (in courage during difficult times). Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.
This last part is the most important understanding to the meaning of 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.”
- I felt this way as my father was suffering from countless battles with the flu and pneumonia. I could see his suffering and had to bear witness to the slow gradual deterioration of his former self. The tragic event in my life had stood as my key reason to grow and to become a better husband, son, father, friend, co-worker, and human being.
- “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. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”
- “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”
- “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
2. “The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
Frankl was able to survive in the concentration camps by thinking of his wife, who was also in another concentration camp. By picturing her and having conversations with her in his mind, it gave him hope that he would see her again once the war was over. He didn’t know if she was alive and had no ways of communicating to her.
- “Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying”
- He further reiterates this fact, “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.”
- “Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.”
3. “They offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This is a powerful mindset change. You have the capabilities of deciding how to react to a situation. How can you be proactive in your life and decide on your reaction?
- “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
- “Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
- “It is we ourselves who must answer the questions that life asks of us, and to these questions we can respond only by being responsible for our existence.”
- “Most important, he realized that, no matter what happened, he retained the freedom to choose how to respond to his suffering.”
- “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. 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.”
4. “Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the 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”
Once you know your why, you can set your goals to get to your ultimate vision and mission in life.
- “Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being. We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill.”
- “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
- “Man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life”
5. “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!”
This one hit home for me. After the death of my father, I realized that I have been wasting a lot of my time on trivial matters. I was spending too much time watching TV, going on social media, or perusing through reddit. I didn’t have a clear why on my existence and needed to evaluate my vision and my mission in life. There are other quotes that I also love:
- Confucius: “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.”
- Mark Twain: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
6. Logotherapy bases its technique called “paradoxical intention” on the twofold fact that fear brings about that which one is afraid of, and that hyper-intention makes impossible what one wishes.
This is a new term that I picked up from the book. You don’t get what you aim so desperately try to get. I always feel this way when I have trouble falling asleep and keep focusing on why I can’t fall asleep! He mentions a few great examples in the book:
- The Pleasure Principle: “The more a man tries to demonstrate his sexual potency or a woman her ability to experience orgasm, the less they are able to succeed. Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself.”
- This was enough to incapacitate the patient for the peak experience of sexual pleasure, since the orgasm was made an object of intention, and an object of attention as well, instead of remaining an unintended effect of unreflected dedication and surrender to the partner.
- “Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s 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.”
- “One must have a reason to “be happy.” Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically.”
- “As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy, last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation.”
- If you want anyone to laugh you have to provide him with a reason, e.g., you have to tell him a joke. In no way is it possible to evoke real laughter by urging him, or having him urge himself, to laugh.
7. “The existential vacuum,” a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness.”
Man has lost two key human elements – some basic animal instincts like security and “No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).” Our basic instincts are not necessary in the new world and many millennials may feel boredom with the new free time and lack of vision. As a result of the lack of meaning in their life, we have three syndrome’s that have increased: depression, aggression, addiction”
- “The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom.”
- “Sunday neurosis,” that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.”
- This is where depression, aggression, and addition can occur when you “many of these (people) will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.”
8. “The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs.”
This was Frankl’s own personal meaning of life, to inspire others to help find meaning in their lives. There are great nuggets and gems throughout the book. I highly recommend the book and hopefully you can help Frankl achieve his personal life’s meaning.