Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” teaches us how to find meaning and purpose in life even in the face of sufferings.
This book is based on real events and experiences the author faced. Frankl spent many years in Nazi concentration camp as a prisoner. Viktor’s family members, including his wife, was killed during the second World War. Frankl himself was kept in very dirty conditions like the other Jews prisoners.
They did not even get much to eat. Death was hovering around them all the time. Sometimes people would die of malnutrition and sometimes due to poisonous gases. Then after few days, most of the prisoners would give up, lose hope and meaning in their lives, but every moment was full of meaning for Frankl. He never lost hope and courage because he was a neurologist and psychiatrist. Viktor clearly wrote in his book, “The people like me, in the toughest time, do not lose meaning and hope in their lives because they are people who see every situation like a challenge and try to overcome from that.”
In the concentration camp, every circumstance conspired to make the prisoners lose their hold. All the familiar goals in life were snatched away. What alone remains is “the last of human freedoms”; the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of situations.
This ultimate freedom is recognized by the ancient Stoics as well as by modern existentialists. Here Frankl countered the central theme of existentialism: to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is a purpose in life, there must be a purpose in suffering and in dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is.
Further, Frankl says it does not matter what we expect from life rather the real question is, what life expects from us? Instead of asking yourself the meaning of life, face your situations that what the life is asking you to do or what contributions you want to give in the world. According to Frankl, the real meaning of living is taking on the responsibility of finding the right answer to life’s problems and to overcoming the obstacles that hinder on way of finding these answers. It is very important to be responsible for something in life.
The author quotes Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” That is when any person holds a meaning and responsibility in life then they can become able to face any difficulty and come out of that.
Frankl observed in the concentration camp that persons who did not have any meaning in their life, were easily addicted. They had anger problems. They got depressed very quickly. Viktor also observed that this meaning is not related to comfortable life, success or money. Because the time he was in concentration camp, people were compelled to commit suicide – persons who did not have any reason or meaning to live any more. Viktor called this emptiness of life “Existential Vacuum”. A person with such a vacuum had three symptoms; depression, anger and addiction.
On his observational basis, Frankl invented a new therapy which he named “Logotherapy” which means “meaning therapy”. This therapy guides a person to find out meaning in their life. According to this therapy, a person can find the meaning in three ways: to pursue a goal in life, to make good relationships, and to bear sufferings bravely and to hold the responsibility of that. Whenever anyone, who does not sit a valuable goal, then they spend their life aimlessly and waste their all life.
Victor’s definition of good relationship is different from others. As of Viktor, love does not just mean loving feelings rather the true love is to recognize others’ potentials and to help others from reaching their highest potentials, for example to make opportunity for your children or to motivate your friends or colleagues.
In the third step, Frankl gives his own example that how he wisely bore the sufferings of concentration camp and made himself busy by delivering speeches about psychology, reading or observing others’ behaviours as well. Whenever you get into a trouble or feel bad, then find a solution to this problem and ask yourself how you can make this suffering valuable.
The core of Frankl’s philosophy is that a man’s deepest desire is to find meaning in his life. If he can find that meaning, he can survive through any situation.