Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
While doing a little pre-new year cleaning, I came across this small book. I don’t really recall when or where I bought it from, or what even inspired my to get it, but for some reason I knew it was important that I found it that way. So I put it at the top of my ‘to read’ pile. Sure enough, a week or so later I’d find myself in a bit of a mess after a mental breakdown of sorts. It didn’t last long but I was in a vulnerable state, and I knew I needed to get my hands on something that would help me get back on track. I reached for what was at the top of that pile.
Man’s Search for Meaning is an interesting book in that from its premise, it doesn’t sound like much of an uplifting book. This work is part memoir, part psychiatric analysis written by former Nazi concentration camp survivor, neurologist and psychiatrist, Dr. Viktor Frankl. The late doctor is known as the creator of logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy centered on the ‘meaning of life’ being the source of human’s will to live.
The first half of the book briefly details Frankl’s time in the deadly Nazi concentration camps and how he as a psychiatrist viewed and processed the struggles of his fellow prisoners, as well as himself. By this time, he had already began work on the basics of logotherapy, so he observed much of what went on in the camps in that context. The horror he saw and experienced there would become the rest of the crucial data he needed to build out the principles of his school of thought. Dr. Frankl uses the second half of the book to give a more structured explanation of logotherapy and its uses, while applying its components to individuals and societies.
What he found was that through unimaginable suffering, if a person had a strong enough thing to live for, they’d have the will to make it to the other side of that strife. To one prisoner, the dream of once again seeing family and being free could be real and powerful enough to push him through the days, but to another prisoner that vision may be absolutely inconsequential. But the fact remains that the belief in the possibility of that future could, and did, quite literally mean the difference between life and death.
Counterintuitively, these experiences and analyses were really some of the most positive things I could’ve come across at that specific time, when I was feeling useless and small in the world. It showed me that everyone has a meaning to not give up on if they choose to use it, and you come across it when you feel that life has given up on you. That meaning could push you your entire life, or just for a few months, but at that point you’ve got something that will end up providing meaning for you. It’s an oddly self-fulfilling prophecy. For me, right now? That meaning is my writing.
With all that said, I’m very grateful to have bought and rediscovered this book, and I hope you find something of use in it also.