Man's Search for Meaning

I'd heard about the book Man's Search for Meaning again and again, but I had never read it and actually didn't even know what it was about. Except for what the title says, obviously. So I bought it on Amazon with a gift certificate and just finished reading it. I thought it was a great book because it was interesting, educational, and inspiring. It also combines two topics I am very interested in: concentration camps and the importance of having a purpose in life. I have always been fascinated and confused and saddened by the idea of concentration camps. I just can't seem to get over how something that horrific could have happened so recently. The stories of the survivors are just incredible. They endured so much and I wonder sometimes what it must have been like to go through what they did. I'm also very interested in how having a purpose changes our outlook on life. In my Positive Psychology we talked a lot about this and I realized truly how necessary it is. Whether your purpose is connected to your religion, family or something else, it plays a huge role and is unbelievably valuable to your happiness. I enjoyed learning more about this from Dr. Frankl's perspective. I absolutely recommend this book. There are so many new thoughts and perspectives that really put a new light on the way way we view our lives. I believe that most people would benefit from reading it.

Summary: Internationally renowned psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl endured years of unspeakable horror in Nazi death camps. During, and partly because of his suffering, Dr. Frankle developed a revolutionary approach to psychotherapy known as logotherapy. At the core of his theory is the belief that man's primary motivational force is his search for meaning.


First, just let me say that I could quote this whole book. This man is a genius when it comes to humanity and life perspective and what he says really opened my eyes. I hope these quotes encourage you to read this book.

Page 48, "I shall never forget how I was roused one night by the groans of a fellow prisoner, who threw himself about in his sleep, obviously having a horrible nightmare. Since I had always been especially sorry for people who suffered from fearful dreams or deliria, I wanted to wake the poor man. Suddenly I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do. At that moment I became intensely conscious of the fact that no dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him."

Page 86, Viktor talks about humans being influenced by their surroundings, but then brings up the question of human liberty and spiritual freedom. "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but 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."

Page 87, "Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone." "It is this spiritual freedom - which cannot be taken away -that makes life meaningful and purposeful."

Page 89, "If there is 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. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity-even under the most difficult circumstances to add a deeper meaning to his life."

Page 97, Quoting Niestzche, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how."

Page 104, "What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you." and "Human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death...They must not lose hope but should keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning."

Page 112, "No one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them."

Page 131, "For the meaning of life is different from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: 'Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?' There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one's opponent. The same holds for human existence."

Page 132, He is giving advice as to how we should live each day. "Imagine first that the present is past and, second that the past may yet be change and amended."

Page 135, "Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now, how could I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, 'What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?' "Oh," he said, 'for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!' Whereupon I replied, 'You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering - to be sure, at the price that you now have to survive and mourn her.' He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice." **I have heard this quoted before and think it is brilliant. My favorite quote of the book. It really changed my perspective in regards to death and suffering.

Dr. Frankl does make it clear though that meaning in suffering is possible only when it is unavoidable. "To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic."

Page 138, "More and more a psychiatrist is approached today by patients who confront him with human problems rather than neurotic symptoms. Some of the people who nowadays call on a psychiatrist would have seen a pastor, priest, or rabbi in former days. Now they often refuse to be handed over to a clergyman and instead confront the doctor with questions such as, "what is the meaning of my life?" I found that very interesting.

Page 140, "The question was whether an ape which was being used to develop poliomyelitis serum, and for this reason punctured again and again, would ever be able to grasp the meaning of its suffering. Unanimously, the group replied that of course it would not; with it limited intelligence, it would not enter into the world of man, i.e., the only world in which the meaning of its suffering would be understandable." Then he goes on to say, "Is it not conceivable that there is still another dimension, a world beyond man's world; a world in which the question of an ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer?"

Page 142, Dr. Frankl talks about a man whose wife and six children were killed in concentration camps and who now is tremendously worried because he feels they all died innocently and will go to heaven, but that he will not meet him there because he has not lived such a pure life as them. Dr. Frankl says to him, '"Is it not conceivable, Rabbi, that precisely this was the meaning of your surviving your children: that you may be purified through these years of suffering, so that finally you, too, though not innocent like your children, maybe become worthy of joining them in Heaven?"' Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but I find it an interesting idea.

Page 144, "What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that young person has, the future which is in store for him? 'No, thank you," he will think. 'Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. " Later he goes on to say, "The potentialities they have actualized...and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets form the past."

Page 145, "Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect of by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself."

Page 156, "I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast."

Page 157, "What he becomes - within the limits of endowment and environment - he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not not on conditions." And "After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Israel on his lips."

Page 165, "People have enough to live by but nothing to live for." How true this is for many people.

Page 171, The story of Jerry Long tells how he became a quadriplegic in a diving accident at the age of 17. Jerry says, "I view my life as being abundant with meaning and purpose. The attitude that I adopted on that fateful day has become my personal credo for life: I broke my neck, it didn't break me."

1 Response to Man's Search for Meaning

April 6, 2011 at 1:48 AM

I love this post so much! I am going to buy that sounds so interesting! Thank you Lauren!

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