This month I am reviewing one of the all-time classics Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Once read, this is a book you will never forget. Viktor Frankl was a survivor of several concentration camps in World War II, including Auschwitz and integrated his experiences to help develop a new branch of psychiatry – called logotherapy.
I was recommended this book many years ago towards the start of my personal development journey and picked it up again recently. Reading it again, I am reminded how the challenges we all currently face with the coronavirus pandemic are dwarfed by the prospect of hard labour and all that is required on a daily basis for survival in a concentration camp.
About the author Viktor E. Frankl
Viktor E. Frankl was born in 1905 and studied neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna. Shortly afterwards, he started writing scientific papers and to question the established approaches to psychoanalysis. His view, even then, was that meaning was the central motivational force in human beings.
During the second world war he was held in several concentration camps and he was one of the very few to survive Auschwitz. His wife, and most of his family perished in concentration camps.
In his career he wrote 39 books. The English translation of Man’s Search for Meaning was published in 1959 and soon became an international bestseller. It is listed as one of Amazon.com’s Top 100 Books to Read In a Lifetime.
Core messages from Man’s Search for Meaning
During the second world war, Viktor E. Frankl was in forced confinement across four different concentration camps and this book chronicles an array of his personal experiences. Many people are attracted to this book because of his compelling story of triumph over adversity.
The book is split into two sections: The first is titled “Experiences in a Concentration Camp” and the second is titled “Logotherapy in a Nutshell”. Logotherapy was developed by the author during his lifetime as a school of psychotherapy based on an idea that meaning has an objective base (not just constructed by subjective experience).
In his book, Frankl provides a commentary of his experiences and regularly links them with the consequences of how humans place meaning on love, relationships and events. The central theme of the book is that man creates his own meaning of events, and it is the meaning placed on events that determines a man’s attitude and therefore his outcome.
Later in the book the author links many of his experiences to the central assertions of logotherapy. These assertions include:
- Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivator in his life and is unique to every individual
- What matters is not the meaning of life in general, but the contextual meaning of a person’s life at a given moment
- Suffering ceases to become suffering at the very moment it finds a meaning
- Those who can find meaning in their experiences, are more likely to be able to deal with adversity
Who might benefit from reading Man’s Search for Meaning?
The subject matter is a challenging read and so this book is not recommended for the overly sensitive or for those who are just looking to satisfy a curiosity. However, for those who are in a genuine search of the truth of how man can overcome adversity, I believe this book provides powerful evidence for how your attitude can determine your outcome.
Due to the background of the author (in academia), the style of the writing at times (especially in Part II) is relatively dry. Be prepared to dip into this book in small chunks. Although it is less than 200 pages, it’s likely you will want to put the book down to manage your own state of mind and to contemplate your own meaning from what you are reading.
The book provides a useful blend of theory and evidence. Anyone going through a particularly tough time who reads this book is likely to go through mixed emotions. For example, no matter how bad things appear in your life, this book indirectly provides “comfort” in knowing that others have witnessed and even triumphed in seemingly far worse.
Once the book has been finished, the overriding memory is admiration for someone who did not give up and was able to find meaning in the seemingly worst of circumstances.
On a personal note
Since reading this book the first time, my life has changed hugely. I have found far more meaning and inspiration in my work and in my relationships. I would say that to live a life full of meaning and fulfilment takes courage and a willingness to not just settle. This book was one of the stepping-stones for me to finding that courage.
In addition, Man’s Search For Meaning was one of the first books that I had come across to address some of the darkest parts of our existence. Gratitude does not only have to come from the things we love and enjoy in our lives – we can find it in every event if we look closely enough.
Studies have shown that if we have a strong vision or purpose in our lives then we are more likely to be resilient and be able to overcome adversity. This is because when we have this strong sense of purpose it is easier to find meaning where others cannot. If you are looking to empower yourself in uncertain times, then we suggest you order this book to re-connect with what is meaningful in your life.
Read it for yourself
You can order your own copy of Man’s search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl here (external link to Amazon). If you’ve read this book already, let us know your thoughts in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you.
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