mans search for meaning by viktor frankl book review by david harborne

Mans Search for Meaning | Viktor Frankl | Book review by David Harborne

Frankl's book, "Man's Search for Meaning" is about the author's experiences in three different Nazi concentration camps.  He devised logotherapy, which is a form of existential psychotherapy treating the 'will to meaning' rather than the 'will to pleasure. 

He believed that man's primary drive in life is towards achieving his own goals, success, and happiness. His view of happiness was not the conventional one, but was based on his experiences where he had seen others who managed to survive under the most abhorrent conditions by finding meaning in their lives.

Frankl was able to carry out his psychoanalysis with his patients during breaks when they were not required for slave labour. This eventually led him to the conclusion that every man has a will to find meaning in life, no matter what sort of psychological or physical suffering they were experiencing.

Viktor Frankl introduces logotherapy with the following words:

"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 ... as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a course greater than oneself."

This quote is closely related to the idea that "life is what you make it" which has been prevalent in Western culture for many decades. Frankl's book suggests this idea is flawed because man inevitably desires something more than just happiness, though this desire cannot be fulfilled at will.

Man's Search for Meaning is an extremely significant work of literature regarding psychology, specifically the study of the mind and behaviour. This book explores many different aspects of human nature, but perhaps most importantly it addresses man's propensity to seek out meaning in life, no matter how cruel existence may be at times. 

The way that a man responds to a difficult situation may provide insight into the way that he deals with other hardships. A person's ability to cope with stressful situations or trauma can have a significant impact on his mental health and well-being. This book offers readers an opportunity to understand the coping mechanisms used by those who have endured some of humanity's darkest times.

Frankl's book also explores the idea of self-transcendence. He argues that it is through giving oneself over entirely to a cause or purpose that one finds the most meaning in life. However, if this dedication to something greater than oneself becomes too great, then this pursuit itself can become an obsession and act as an obstacle on the path to achieving happiness. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to find the balance between these two approaches.

Although Frankl wrote this book in a non-academic style that is easy for most people to understand, there are still several passages of his work that contain difficult or uncommon words. The following definitions may be helpful when reading through them:

"Logotherapy": Term for a form of psychotherapy developed by Viktor Frankl, the focus is on helping people find meaning in their lives.

"Dereflection": Turning away from things and towards oneself; self-examination.

"Nihilism": Directing contempt, objective indifference or destructiveness towards something. In existential philosophy, it is the belief that there are no intrinsic values or meanings in the world. It holds that a moral code – an external system of value – has no rational foundation and derives its authority from an unthinking tradition or the command of a sovereign.

Frankl's Book can also be useful to anyone wanting to learn more about specific topics such as existentialism, logotherapy, psychology, psychiatry, neurology, humanistic psychology and motivational therapy.

The story starts with Frankl recalling his experience in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. At this time, Frankl was a prominent neurologist and psychiatrist who had a good practice in Vienna before he was forced to relocate his entire life to a concentration camp. 

In these camps, all prisoners were stripped of their rights as human beings; they were subjected to constant degradation and humiliation. However, Frankl uses this opportunity to reflect on the human condition and suggests that even under the most inhumane conditions man can still find meaning in life.

One important idea Frankl explores is logotherapy, which deals with our will to find meaning in our lives and it is based upon three main principles: 

  • freedom of will, 
  • responsibility, and 
  • meaning. 

According to Frankl, everything man does is based upon one of these three principles; therefore the key to mental health is found in our ability to discover what we are ultimately searching for.

Frankl states that all humans have a will to find meaning in life; this desire comes from our very nature as human beings. However, some people are unable to find their own meaning in life because they are overwhelmed by the circumstances around them. 

For these people, Frankl suggests that they should look for new meaning through self-transcendence. That is, they should focus on something outside of themselves. An example of this might be a person who has lost his job and purpose in life. Instead of thinking about the loss he has suffered, he should give his time to a philanthropic cause – something that will make a difference in other people's lives.

Frankl also argues that it is important to be aware of what one wants from life and how one wants to go about getting it. He uses the analogy of a traveller on a train who gets off at the wrong station and spends his life looking for another train. 

In Frankl's view, this would be a tragic waste of time and energy and it demonstrates how easily we can make mistakes if we do not have an accurate understanding of ourselves.

Frankl also talks about the "existential vacuum" that people experience in the modern world. This is a condition where people feel empty and their lives seem meaningless without any purpose or value. Frankl claims that the majority of individuals in this "existential vacuum" are unable to find lasting meaning because they don't possess an unconditional will to find it.

Frankl states that there are three main sources of meaning in life:

1) Experiences of the world give us pleasure; however, they are not able to provide lasting meaning.

2) Work is very important for giving us a sense of purpose and direction, but work alone is also not enough to make our lives meaningful.

3) The final source of meaning comes from love – people give their lives meaning through the love they have for friends, family and even humanity as a whole.

Frankl also makes several observations about what he calls an "existential vacuum"–a condition where people feel empty and their lives seem meaningless without any purpose or value. 

Frankl states that this experience is very common in modern society because people no longer have a clear sense of what they are supposed to do. People who suffer from this "existential vacuum" lack strong inner direction, which makes them especially vulnerable to outside influences that can control their behaviour. Frankl argues that society has focused too much on external success and possessions instead of helping people discover what is really important in life.

In the final part of his book, Frankl talks about some of the specific experiences he had while imprisoned in Auschwitz. He provides a moving description of life in a concentration camp and of how difficult it was to make sense of what he saw. 

However, even under these very harsh conditions, Frankl believes that man can still maintain self-respect and dignity by finding some sense of purpose in life. For Frankl, this purpose does not have to be a grand goal that gives meaning to the entire world; instead, it can be something as simple as a relationship with another person or a small task in a larger plan.

The book closes with a discussion about where people should look for a sense of purpose in life. Frankl argues that a person should look to the experiences they have in their lives, but should also think about how those experiences connect to other people and events.

Frankl's book is unique because he combines his personal memoir with a psychological analysis of the human experience. In doing this, Frankl demonstrates that psychology can be a very personal and humanizing discipline. He also manages to use his training as a psychologist to give a different perspective on the Holocaust, by focusing on the strength and resiliency that were present in even the most difficult circumstances.

The parts of the book I most loved were:

“He who has a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW (to live).” Friedrich Nietzsche

“Success is a side effect of personal dedication or surrender to another.  Listen to what your conscience tells you to do and success will follow.”

“Love is the ultimate and great goal man can aspire to.”

“Everything can be taken away from man, but one thing: Human Freedom.  We always have the opportunity to make a decision whether to give up our inner self.”

“It does not matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us.”  I find this so profound and powerful!  

“Life basically means taking the right actions to fulfil the tasks set for each individual.” 

“Take responsibility to find the right answer to life’s problems and for each individual  to take action to fulfil their tasks.”

For those suffering and who have the intention to commit suicide where they believe “nothing more to expect of life” then consider if life is still expecting something from them.  Something in the future was expected of them that hasn’t happened yet.”  It was clear from the book that we have all a unique gift for this world, so don’t give up too soon in the face of adversity.  

In the later part of the book, Frankl talked about the liberation of the cames - the coming out of a very pressurized situation is similar to what divers experience when they come up from the deepest oceans - there is a period of decompression and if not done safely can lead to the Benz.  In this initial state, no feeling is felt and it gradually returns over time, however, some can hold on to this state and blame others, which is a pointless task.

In the book Man’s Search for Meaning, a description was given about the strength of an arch in relation to mental health.  As I understood it, sometimes it’s important to put more load on the bridge to see the potential strength of what is possible.

viktor frankl mans search for meaning by david harborne secret gay men

I noted that Frankl talks about true meaning is found in self-transcendence as opposed to self-actualization.  As I understand it self-actualization is a side effect of self-transcendence i.e. rising above the self and relating to that which is greater than the self, which in simpler terms means it is the realization that you are one small part of a greater whole and act accordingly.

Freedom of Will (Responsibility and Self Determination)

  • [Seeking Meaning] Will to mean - primary motivation and core value
  • [Finding Meaning] Meaning of Life - meaning of mindset, worldview, affirmation and moral reasoning

Self Transcendence

  1. Re-orientated from self-centredness towards servicing something or someone valued more than oneself.
  2. Shift from extrinsic motivation for earthly goods to intrinsic motivation of valuing something in its own right
  3. Guided by innate conscience and moral compass to do what is responsible, ethical and virtuous
  4. Move by emotions of awe and wonder, resulting in a sense of selflessness and desire to worship or become a better person.

I appreciate you taking the time to read. If you resonated, please share, comment and like👍 

Thank you

David Harborne


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