Man's Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning
Photo by Pop & Zebra / Unsplash

Author: Victor Frankl

Genre: Autobiography

“Man’s Search for Meaning” is a memoir written by Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, and a psychiatrist. He spent three years as a prisoner in the concentration camps. His father, mother, brother, and wife died in different concentration camps. The book's first part is mostly about his experiences as a prisoner in the camp. It could be an intense read for some of the readers, as he describes the tortures prisoners endured, food and sleep deprivation, the endurance of extreme weather conditions, lack of hygiene and proper clothing, executions, and suicides of fellow prisoners. Additionally, he explains his observations of human behaviors during his time in concentration camps. The second part of the book is mostly about Logotherapy, which is meaning-centered psychotherapy. All in all, as the name suggests, this book makes you think about the meaning and purpose of life, and I would recommend it to everyone. Just take your time to read through it and digest its content. Here are some of the key points I took away from this book:

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.

The author explains that humans cannot be the sole product of their environment, history, and experiences. This is evident in the same camp where people faced similar challenges. While some prisoners chose to give up on life by committing suicide, others discovered internal freedom and chose to live with it. It is not as much about what life throws at you, but more about how you deal with those things thrown at you. The author makes a point that while everything can be taken from a man, the inner freedom to deal with suffering is not something that can be taken. I personally found this lesson deeply profound.

While I cannot fathom the depths of suffering endured by the prisoners, I, as a human being, go through my own pain and suffering. While reading the book, I resonated with the author’s idea of choosing one’s attitude in any given circumstance. For me, a daily practice of gratitude has shifted my outlook on my own sufferings. Regardless of how challenging I perceive the circumstances to be, with the attitude of gratitude, I have been able to cope with my hardships more effectively than I could before. Some of the circumstances of life are just as they were, however, with my attitude towards them, I have attained more mental peace and freedom, for sure!

He who has a ‘Why’ to live for can bear with almost any ‘How”- (Friedrich Nietzsche)

The main idea is that an individual who has a sense of purpose and meaning in life can navigate any situation in life and get through it. Often, the concept of life’s purpose or meaning is perceived as something that is only applicable to philosophical individuals. However, it can be as simple as showing kindness to those around you, fostering love and support for your loved ones, or pursuing a passion. For Frankl, the prospect of reuniting with his wife and completing his manuscript provided the strength to endure immense hardships in the camps.

I simply think of "why" in terms of having something to look forward to, something to get excited about, and someone to love and be loved by (and this could extend beyond romantic relationships, such as family (parents, siblings), community, or a spiritual connection).

Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.

As humans, pain and suffering are constant elements of our life. No matter where we are in life, we always suffer in one way or another. As discussed earlier, your attitude towards suffering could determine the quality or even trajectory of your life. The author elaborates on how prisoners managed to endure the hardships of the camp by establishing a connection between their suffering and a sense of meaning. For example- one of the prisoners derived strength from thoughts of reuniting with his child upon his release. By connecting his endurance of hardship to the purpose of living for his child, he attributed meaning to his struggles rather than regarding them as meaningless actions in life.

This book further reaffirmed my belief that at the end of the day, everything boils down to one’s perspective. As I have mentioned earlier, in the past year, there have been circumstances in my life that are beyond my control. Yet, as I have shifted my perspectives and started looking at what I have learned from my “suffering” I have found more meaning in those life circumstances as well.

For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect 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.

Frankl suggests that happiness and success are not something that can be acquired, instead, they emerge organically from the pursuit of meaning. If you engage in meaningful action, you are bound to experience both happiness and success. So, he suggests that instead of chasing happiness or success it is more sustainable to find purpose and meaning in life. As you live a life aligned with your purpose and meaning, you will automatically find yourself in a more fulfilled and happy state.

I mentioned this at the beginning, and I will reiterate again that this book is full of profound life lessons. I am still in awe thinking about humans' incredible strength in navigating through extraordinary hardships within such extreme conditions and coming out on the other side with so much wisdom!

It's a good read, y'all! If you have read it already, let The Growth Mindset Community know what you resonated with most from the book. If you have not read it, hope you find this summary helpful!

If you want to check out my other book reviews, they can be found HERE!

See you in the next blog post! 😊