Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl
Publisher: Beacon Press (1946)
Table of Contents
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.
The world is a tough place. Many of us go through life struggling to discover what this all means. We’d like to think that all our struggles, our suffering, our labor, serves some ultimate purpose. That our lives matter and that what we do matters.
Some people search for meaning in different places: in religion, money, power, nature, beauty, art, family, for the sense of an ultimate purpose. Others conclude that life is meaningless.
“Man’s Search for Meaning” tells us that life does have an ultimate purpose and it is unique for each and every one of us. There is meaning in all of life’s struggles and challenges. Rather than ask what we expect from life, we must ask what life expects from us. Then, it becomes our own unique task, to which no one else is suited, to fulfill that responsibility. Simply put, we are held responsible to fulfill what life expects of us.
Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1997) was a Jewish Austrian neurologist, author, and psychiatrist. In September 1942, Frankl and his family were arrested and deported. Frankl spent the next three years at four different concentration camps – Theresienstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kaufering, and Türkheim, part of the Dachau complex. He suffered various tortures, starvation, illness, forced labor, the constant threat of death, and the worst kinds of degradations. Nearly all of Frankl’s entire family: his parents, brother, and his pregant wife, perished in the Nazi concentration camps. Frankl and his sister were the sole survivors of his family. (His sister had migrated to Australia right before the Nazis marched into Austria.)
Upon his liberation from the concentration camp in 1946, Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning (in only nine days) to explain how to find meaning in suffering, and how his experiences as a prisoner helped to validate his belief that the primary motivation in life is the search for meaning. Frankl saw three possible sources of meaning: (a) in work (doing something significant), (b) in love (caring for someone else) , and (c) in the courage required to endure suffering.
Of the three sources of meaning, Frankl believed that finding meaning during difficult times was the most important. Suffering itself is meaningless. But, it is inevitable for all of us. It is how we choose to respond to suffering that gives meaning to it and to our lives.
These beliefs form the foundation of logotherapy, which is a form of therapy that helps to orient a patient towards the future, and to find something in which to believe and to make life meaningful. Man’s Search for Meaning is a book about survival, and how to find strength and courage to endure, even in the worst of conditions.
The book is structured into two parts. Part 1 deals with Frankl’s experiences as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, and the psychology of the prisoner in adjusting to life in the camp. While he tries not to dwell on the degradation and torture, the horror and inhumanity that Frankl and his fellow prisoners endure can’t help but shine through.
Part 2 focuses on logotherapy, the branch of psychotherapy that Frankl founded. Logotherapy focuses on helping patients to find meaning, and coming to terms with the idea that there can be meaning found in suffering, even in the worst of conditions and situations.
3 Main Ideas
- Human nature is motivated by the search for a life purpose, and life is essentially a quest to find meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.
- Suffering itself is meaningless. But, it is inevitable for all human beings. It is how we choose to respond to suffering that gives meaning to it and to our lives.
- Between stimulus and response, the individual always has the power to choose. You can’t control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you. Everything can be taken away from you, including your own body. What cannot be taken away from you is the freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.
5 Key Takeaways
- Human nature is motivated by the search for a life purpose, and life is essentially a quest to find meaning.
- Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. A human being is a finite thing, and his freedom is restricted. It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.
- There is no one single abstract meaning of life. Rather, everyone has his or her own specific task in life to accomplish. Everyone has their own unique concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. Each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life. To life he can only respond by being responsible. Being responsible (for one’s life) is the very essence of human existence.
- Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. Being free to choose requires realizing that one must constantly make choices, and therefore one is responsible for those choices. Freedom requires you to take the responsibility for your life and your choices. Life requires you to be responsible for finding the right answer to the many problems you will face, and to fulfil those tasks.
- Meaning is found through self transcendence; by directing one’s attention away from oneself and towards something else: a creation, an experience, someone else (love), or by the way in which one endures inevitable and unavoidable suffering. If we focus inward, on only ourselves, we cannot fully experience the true uniqueness and beauty that is to be found in the world and in other people. Finding happiness and meaning is a by-product, not the goal. Both originate out of a dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
- When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. (92)
- Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. (57)
- The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence. (91)
- A human being is a finite thing, and his freedom is restricted. It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions. (106)
- Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Thus, logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence
- “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” Nietzsche
Foreword, by Harold Kushner, 2006
- Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. pg. 2,
- The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. pg. 2
3 Sources of Meaning:
- in work: doing something significant
- in love: caring for another person
- in courage during difficult times.
- Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it. pg. 2,
- Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you. pg. 3
- This is a profoundly religious book. It insists that life is meaningful and that we must learn to see life as meaningful despite our circumstances. It emphasizes that there is an ultimate purpose to life. pg. 4,
Preface to the 1992 Edition, Viktor E. Frankl, 1992
- “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, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. pg. 6
Part I: Experiences In A Concentration Camp
- How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner? pg. 7
Three Psychological Phases of the Inmate:
- The period following his admission to the prison camp [shock]
- In psychiatry there is a certain condition known as “delusion of reprieve.” The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute. We, too, clung to shreds of hope and believed to the last moment that it would not be so bad. 13
- Lessing, “There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose.” An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior. pg. 21
- The period when he is well entrenched in camp routine [apathy];
- The phase of relative apathy, in which he achieved a kind of emotional death. pg. 21,
- The period following his release and liberation [depersonalization, bitterness, disillusionment, unhappiness, relief].
- “Freedom”—we repeated to ourselves, and yet we could not grasp it. We had said this word so often during all the years we dreamed about it, that it had lost its meaning. Its reality did not penetrate into our consciousness; we could not grasp the fact that freedom was ours. pg. 75
- the blunting of the emotions and the feeling that one could not care any more. pg. 23
- a necessary mechanism of self-defense. Reality dimmed, and all efforts and all emotions were centered on one task: preserving one’s own life and that of the other fellow. pg. 27
- Disgust, horror and pity are emotions that our spectator could not really feel any more. The sufferers, the dying and the dead, became such commonplace sights to him after a few weeks of camp life that they could not move him any more. pg. 22
- We who have come back, by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles—whatever one may choose to call them—we know: the best of us did not return. pg. 9
- If the man in the concentration camp did not struggle against this [a loss of values] in a last effort to save his self-respect, he lost the feeling of being an individual, a being with a mind, with inner freedom and personal value. He thought of himself then as only a part of an enormous mass of people; his existence descended to the level of animal life. Pg 45
Spirituality & Strength
- Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. pg. 34
- Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature. pg. 34
- This intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of his existence, by letting him escape into the past. pg. 36
- Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. pg. 35
- In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way —an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.” pg. 35
- My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing—which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance. pg. 36
- Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. pg. 40,
- It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds. pg. 40
- The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent. pg. 40
- But it is not for me to pass judgment on those prisoners who put their own people above everyone else. Who can throw a stone at a man who favors his friends under circumstances when, sooner or later, it is a question of life or death? No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same. pg. 43
- The men were herded—sometimes to one place then to another; sometimes driven together, then apart—like a flock of sheep without a thought or a will of their own. A small but dangerous pack watched them from all sides, well versed in methods of torture and sadism. They drove the herd incessantly, backwards and forwards, with shouts, kicks and blows. And we, the sheep, thought of two things only—how to evade the bad dogs and how to get a little food. pg. 45
- The list was the only thing that mattered. A man counted only because he had a prison number. One literally became a number: dead or alive—that was unimportant; the life of a “number” was completely irrelevant. What stood behind that number and that life mattered even less: the fate, the history, the name of the man. pg. 47
- The prisoners saw themselves completely dependent on the moods of the guards—playthings of fate—and this made them even less human than the circumstances warranted. pg. 48
Freedom to Choose One’s Response
- The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. pg. 57,
- We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. pg. 57
- And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate. pg. 58
- In the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. pg. 58
- Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. pg. 58
Meaning in Suffering
- human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and…this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death. pg. 71
- Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” pg. 58
- But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. pg. 58,
- It is true that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate. pg. 59
- When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden. pg. 67
- There was plenty of suffering for us to get through.Therefore, it was necessary to face up to the full amount of suffering, trying to keep moments of weakness and furtive tears to a minimum. But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer. Only very few realized that. pg. 68
- … the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning. pg. 71
- It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future—sub specie aeternitatis. And this is his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task. pg. 63
- A man who let himself decline because he could not see any future goal found himself occupied with retrospective thoughts. pg. 62,
- Regarding our “provisional existence” as unreal was in itself an important factor in causing the prisoners to lose their hold on life; everything in a way became pointless. Such people forgot that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself. Instead of taking the camp’s difficulties as a test of their inner strength, they did not take their life seriously and despised it as something of no consequence. They preferred to close their eyes and to live in the past. Life for such people became meaningless. pg. 62
- Varying this, we could say that most men in a concentration camp believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners. pg. 63
- The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. pg. 64
What Life Expects From Us
- What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. pg. 66
- We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. pg. 67
- Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. pg. 67
- These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. pg. 67
- No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. pg. 67
- Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross. Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand. pg. 67
You are Responsible for Your Life
- This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. pg. 69
- When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. pg. 69,
Two Races of Men
- It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils. pg. 74
- From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two—the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of “pure race”—and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards. pg. 74
- We had literally lost the ability to feel pleased and had to relearn it slowly. pg. 75
- Psychologically, what was happening to the liberated prisoners could be called “depersonalization.” Everything appeared unreal, unlikely, as in a dream. We could not believe it was true. pg. 75,
- Only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them. pg. 77
- A man who for years had thought he had reached the absolute limit of all possible suffering now found that suffering has no limits, and that he could suffer still more, and still more intensely. pg. 78
- Woe to him who found that the person whose memory alone had given him courage in camp did not exist any more! Woe to him who, when the day of his dreams finally came, found it so different from all he had longed for! pg. 78
- We were not hoping for happiness—it was not that which gave us courage and gave meaning to our suffering, our sacrifices and our dying. And yet we were not prepared for unhappiness. pg. 79
- The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more—except his God. pg. 79
Part II: Logotherapy In A Nutshell
- Logotherapy (from Logos, a Greek word which denotes “meaning”) focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning. pg. 81,
- The striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. pg. 81
- Logotherapy focuses on the future, ie, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future. It is a meaning-centered psychotherapy. pg. 81
- Logotherapy is a will to meaning. It stands in contrast to other branches of psychoanalysis:
- The Will to Pleasure or “The pleasure Principle”, Freud
- The Will to Power (“striving for superiority,”), Adler
- Logotherapy’s goal is to help the patient to find meaning in his life; it is an analytical process to help make him aware of the hidden logos of his existence.
- Logotherapy deviates from psychoanalysis insofar as it considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts, or in merely reconciling the conflicting claims of id, ego and superego, or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and environment. pg. 85
The Will to Meaning
- Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. pg. 82
- This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning. pg. 82
- Man’s will to meaning can also be frustrated, leading to “existential frustration.”
- The term “existential” may be used in three ways: to refer to
- (1) existence itself, i.e., the specifically human mode of being;
- (2) the meaning of existence; and
- (3) the striving to find a concrete meaning in personal existence, that is to say, the will to meaning. pg. 83
- Not every conflict is necessarily neurotic; some amount of conflict is normal and healthy.
- Existential frustration is in itself neither pathological nor pathogenic. A man’s concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease. pg. 84
The Need for Tension
- Man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. pg. 85
- Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. pg. 86
- Man doesn’t need equilibrium (or, as it is called in biology, “homeostasis,)” i.e., a tensionless state.
- What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him. pg. 86
The Existential Vacuum
- So many patients complain today, namely, the feeling of the total and ultimate meaninglessness of their lives. They lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves; they are caught in that situation which I have called the “existential vacuum.” pg. 87
- The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. pg. 87
- Boredom is now causing, and certainly bringing to psychiatrists, more problems to solve than distress. …And these problems are growing increasingly crucial, for progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time. pg. 88
- Sometimes the frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated for by a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. pg. 88
- In other cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration often eventuates in sexual compensation. We can observe in such cases that the sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacuum. pg. 88
The Meaning of Life
- the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. pg. 89
- To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent. The same holds for human existence.
- One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. pg. 89
- As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Thus, logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.
The Essence of Existence
- This emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!” pg. 89
- Logotherapy tries to make the patient fully aware of his own responsibleness; therefore, it must leave to him the option for what, to what, or to whom he understands himself to be responsible. pg. 90
- By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. pg. 90
- “The self-transcendence of human existence” denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. pg. 90
- The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence. pg. 91
The Sources of Meaning
- We can discover this meaning in life in 3 different ways:
- (1) by creating a work or doing a deed
- (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone
- (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
The Meaning of Love
- Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. pg. 91
- By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true. pg. 91
The Meaning of Suffering
- We may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. pg. 92
- For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. pg. 92
- When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves. pg. 92
- It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning. pg. 93
- But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering—provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. pg. 93
- If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic. pg. 93
- What never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end. In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering. pg. 93
- And what about man? Are you sure that the human world is a terminal point in the evolution of the cosmos? Is it not conceivable that there is still another dimension, a world beyond man’s world; a world in which the question of an ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer?” pg. 96
- What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms. Logos is deeper than logic. pg. 97
- In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost but everything irrevocably stored. pg. 98
- the transitoriness of our existence in no way makes it meaningless. But it does constitute our responsibleness; for everything hinges upon our realizing the essentially transitory possibilities. Man constantly makes his choice concerning the mass of present potentialities; which of these will be condemned to nonbeing and which will be actualized? Which choice will be made an actuality once and forever, an immortal “footprint in the sands of time”? At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence. pg. 98
- The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? pg. 99
- Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? “No, thank you,” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.” pg. 99
Logotherapy as a Technique
- Anticipatory anxiety. It is characteristic of this fear that it produces precisely that of which the patient is afraid. pg. 99
- in the same way that fear brings to pass what one is afraid of, likewise a forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes. pg. 100
- Logotherapy bases its technique called “paradoxical intention” on the twofold fact that fear brings about that which one is afraid of, and that hyper-intention makes impossible what one wishes. pg. 101
- In this approach the phobic patient is invited to intend, even if only for a moment, precisely that which he fears. pg. 101
- this procedure consists of a reversal of the patient’s attitude, inasmuch as his fear is replaced by a paradoxical wish. By this treatment, the wind is taken out of the sails of the anxiety. pg. 101
- Such a procedure, however, must make use of the specifically human capacity for self-detachment inherent in a sense of humor. This basic capacity to detach one from oneself is actualized whenever the logotherapeutic technique called paradoxical intention is applied. pg. 101
- Paradoxical intention can also be applied in cases of sleep disturbance. The fear of sleeplessness results in a hyper-intention to fall asleep, which, in turn, incapacitates the patient to do so. pg. 103
- To overcome this particular fear, I usually advise the patient not to try to sleep but rather to try to do just the opposite, that is, to stay awake as long as possible. pg. 103,
- In other words, the hyper-intention to fall asleep, arising from the anticipatory anxiety of not being able to do so, must be replaced by the paradoxical intention not to fall asleep, which soon will be followed by sleep.
- As soon as the patient stops fighting his obsessions and instead tries to ridicule them by dealing with them in an ironical way—by applying paradoxical intention—the vicious circle is cut, the symptom diminishes and finally atrophies.
- anticipatory anxiety has to be counteracted by paradoxical intention; hyper-intention as well as hyper-reflection have to be counteracted by dereflection;
- dereflection, however, ultimately is not possible except by the patient’s orientation toward his specific vocation and mission in life. pg. 105
- It is not the neurotic’s self-concern, whether pity or contempt, which breaks the circle formation; the cue to cure is self-transcendence! pg. 105
The Collective Neurosis
- The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as the contention that being has no meaning. pg. 105
- First of all, there is a danger inherent in the teaching of man’s “nothingbutness,” the theory that man is nothing but the result of biological, psychological and sociological conditions, or the product of heredity and environment. Such a view of man makes a neurotic believe what he is prone to believe anyway, namely, that he is the pawn and victim of outer influences or inner circumstances. This neurotic fatalism is fostered and strengthened by a psychotherapy which denies that man is free. pg. 105
- A human being is a finite thing, and his freedom is restricted. It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions. pg. 106
- But in addition to being a professor in two fields I am a survivor of four camps —concentration camps, that is—and as such I also bear witness to the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable.” pg. 106
Critique of Pan-Determinism
- “Pan-determinism.” : the view of man which disregards his capacity to take a stand toward any conditions whatsoever. pg. 106,
- Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. pg. 106
- Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary. pg. 106
- Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast. pg. 107
- A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes—within the limits of endowment and environment—he has made out of himself. pg. 108
- In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions. pg. 108
- We have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips. pg. 109
- Can life retain its potential meaning in spite of its tragic aspects?
- “Tragic optimism” means that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the “tragic triad,” those aspects of human existence which may be circumscribed by: (1) pain, (2) guilt, and (3) death.
- Tragic optimism presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable. This in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other words, what matters is to make the best of any given situation. pg. 112
- Tragic optimism…an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action. pg. 112
- But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to “be happy.” Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy, last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation. pg. 112
- Once an individual’s search for a meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering. pg. 113
- As to the causation of the feeling of meaninglessness, one may say, albeit in an oversimplifying vein, that people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning. To be sure, some do not even have the means. pg. 114
- The truth is that man does not live by welfare alone. pg. 114
Meaning in Suffering
- Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph. pg. 118
- As for the concept of collective guilt, I personally think that it is totally unjustified to hold one person responsible for the behavior of another person or a collective of persons. pg. 121
- And yet is not this transitoriness a reminder that challenges us to make the best possible use of each moment of our lives? It certainly is, and hence my imperative: Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now. pg. 121
- For as soon as we have used an opportunity and have actualized a potential meaning, we have done so once and for all. We have rescued it into the past wherein it has been safely delivered and deposited. pg. 122
- In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured. pg. 122
- It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past—the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized—and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past. pg. 122
- In the filth of Auschwitz…There, the “individual differences” did not “blur” but, on the contrary, people became more different; people unmasked themselves, both the swine and the saints. pg. 124
- It is true that they [the saints] form a minority. More than that, they always will remain a minority. pg. 124
- And yet I see therein the very challenge to join the minority. For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best. pg. 125
- So, let us be alert—alert in a twofold sense: Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake. pg. 125
Afterword, by William J. Winslade, 2006
- At the age of three he decided to become a physician. In his autobiographical reflections, he recalls that as a youth he would “think for some minutes about the meaning of life. Particularly about the meaning of the coming day and its meaning for me.” pg. 128,
- at age sixteen, Frankl attended an adult-education workshop on philosophy. The instructor, recognizing Frankl’s precocious intellect, invited him to give a lecture on the meaning of life. pg. 128
- Frankl told the audience that “It is we ourselves who must answer the questions that life asks of us, and to these questions we can respond only by being responsible for our existence.” This belief became the cornerstone of Frankl’s personal life and professional identity. pg. 128
- Frankl drew constantly upon uniquely human capacities such as inborn optimism, humor, psychological detachment, brief moments of solitude, inner freedom, and a steely resolve not to give up or commit suicide. pg. 129, loc. 1975-1976
- 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. pg. 129
- Most important, he realized that, no matter what happened, he retained the freedom to choose how to respond to his suffering. pg. 129, loc. 1978-1979
- He saw this not merely as an option but as his and every person’s responsibility to choose “the way in which he bears his burden.” pg. 130, loc. 1979-1980
- Frankl also uses moral exhortation, however, to call attention to “the gap between what one is and what one should become” and the idea that “man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life.” pg. 130
- He sees freedom and responsibility as two sides of the same coin. pg. 130
- To achieve personal meaning, he says, one must transcend subjective pleasures by doing something that “points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself … by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love.” pg. 130
- It is a question of the attitude one takes toward life’s challenges and opportunities, both large and small. A positive attitude enables a person to endure suffering and disappointment as well as enhance enjoyment and satisfaction. A negative attitude intensifies pain and deepens disappointments; it undermines and diminishes pleasure, happiness, and satisfaction; it may even lead to depression or physical illness. pg. 131
- The choices humans make should be active rather than passive. In making personal choices we affirm our autonomy. pg. 131
- His approach to psychotherapy stressed the importance of helping people to reach new heights of personal meaning through self-transcendence: the application of positive effort, technique, acceptance of limitations, and wise decisions. pg. 134
- His goal was to provoke people into realizing that they could and should exercise their capacity for choice to achieve their own goals. pg. 134
You may also enjoy the following books:
If you found this summary helpful, just click here to share it!