I recently read the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. He was a Holocaust survivor in which he survived three different camps. I am sharing my book review on this because I believe it added value to my life and it can change your mind and your world for the better, in my perspective. If you don’t want to take my word for it then, note that the book has sold over 10 million copies and has been translated into 24 languages.
First, let me share how I came to reading A Man’s Search for Meaning. This is yet, another book I felt that found me when I didn’t know I needed it. My best friend was on a trip in Europe and I was searching for local sites in Paris that could be interesting for her to check-out. Shakespeare and Company was one of the attractions listed and I got super excited when I saw that it was a bookstore. I thought of asking her to walk inside and envision herself as me walking into the bookstore, but I didn’t. Instead, I went ahead and asked her if she could please check-out the bookstore and buy a book for me. Once she said yes, I quickly scanned for a book on the website and Man’s Search for Meaning was on the recommended list, it seemed as if it was calling me and asking me to read it. The title somehow sounded familiar – I’ve must’ve heard of this title once before but I don’t recall. No questions or further search was needed and I chose this book. I am happy that I read this book and the fact that the book traveled from Paris to my hands makes it even better. The book is full of knowledge and a variety of points can be covered. Below are some of main key points that I felt were important to share.
Who, What, and When?
- In 1942, Frankl and his family were deported and arrested. He spent the next three years in four different concentration camps. Even before this incident, Dr. Frankl had already formulated an argument that the quest for meaning in life was the key to mental health and human flourishing.
- In the camps he saw people die, people treated poorly, unbearable suffering, pain, hunger, death and more. His experience in the camps helped shape many of his ideas from Man’s Search for Meaning. The people he met and studied are mentioned in the book to the extent of reviewing what was going on psychologically based on his experience as neurologist.
Key Point #1 – Mind Shift
He realized that he must try to live for the future, and he drew strength from loving thoughts of his wife and his deep desire to finish his book on logotherapy. He also found meaning in glimpse of nature and art. Importantly, he realized that no matter what happened, he retained the freedom to choose how to respond to his suffering. He believed that, “Striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task,” was important. the meaning of life always changes but it never ceases to be.
Key Point #2 – Three ways you can find meaning:
1.) Creating a work or doing a deed.
2.) Experiencing something or encountering someone
3.) The attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
Dr. Frankl’s meaning to live? In one of his lectures he revealed that his meaning in life was to help others find meaning in their life. During his time in the holocaust, a manuscript of his was confiscated so he had a deep desire to write this manuscript anew helped him survive the rigors of camp. This is one of the main meanings he found the will to live. That manuscript included ideas for his first book he wrote called, The Doctor and the Soul: An Introduction to Logotherapy.
Key Point #3 – Suffering
He talks about the meaning of suffering and how one can use it to our advantage instead of using it as an excuse to not be better. We can always find meaning in hopeless situations, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For example, a patient who has cancer may not be able to change their diagnosis but they can control how they will face the issue. That means changing a personal tragedy into a triumph. When we can’t change a situation, we are left with changing ourselves. This is a key point that can help turn life around for the better. Dr. Frankl makes it clear that suffering is NOT necessary for meaning. He points out that meaning is possible in spite of it (if it’s avoidable). Any avoidable suffering and not removing it, is unnecessary and masochistic.
Key Point #4 – Logotherapy and Noö Dynamics
- Logotherapy = Logos is Greek for meaning, it focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning. According to logotherapy, the strive to find meaning is a primary motivational force in one’s life in man.
- Noö dynamics — A term coined by Viktor Frankl describing a state of tension, a spiritual dynamic, that motivates one to find meaning in life. The absence of this is an existential vacuum. According to the American Association Psychology (APA), “existential vacuum is the inability to find or create meaning in life, leading to feelings of emptiness, alienation, futility, and aimlessness. Most existentialists have considered meaninglessness to be the quintessential symptom or ailment of the modern age.”
- He argues that man needs, is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled. We as humans struggle with the tension between what one has accomplished and the gap between what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore indispensable to mental well-being. We shouldn’t hesitate about challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill.
I think the book was great and I found value in it because it made me think of how I can view my life in a positive light. Although, I like and recommend the book, I was curious to see if there were others who disagree and there was. Psychologist Rollo May, another prestigious name in the psychology community said, “logotherapy hovers close to authoritarianism, there seem to be clear solutions to all problems, which belies the complexity of actual life. It seems that if the patient cannot find his goal, Frankl supplies him with one. This would seem to take over the patients’ responsibility and … diminish the patient as a person.” I think the argument he trying to make is in regards to the authority and control of the patient. It seems that psychology in general, encounters the same issue time and time again.
I recommend this book and I feel happy not only to have been able to read the book but also share my view on it. I have been talking about this book on my Instagram and I’m excited to share it with my IG fam. I will continue to do more book reviews, I love reading. If you have any book recommendations, please send them my way via email or comment below. Follow me on Instagram by clicking this link. You can buy Viktor Frankl’s book on Amazon or search a bookstore near you.