top of page
  • Writer's pictureAnderson Petergeorge

Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl


Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Based on his own experience and the stories of his patients, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.

Library of Congress' nation-wide survey "what book made a difference in your life" found Man's Search for Meaning among the 10 most influential books in America

  • "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"

  • Frankl saw three possible sources for 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

  • 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

  • Facts in medical textbooks were proven a lie in the concentration camps. Textbooks state that humans cannot exist without sleep for more than a stated number of hours. But in Auschwitz people survived with no sleep for days. People who identified as light sleepers, slept with no issue through the noise in the environment and on boards with no blankets

  • Even though they could not clean their teeth their gums were just as healthy as before

    • Solidifies the saying "A person can get used to anything"

  • Regression happened in camp inmates - a retreat to a more primitive form of mental life. Wishes and desires became simpler in dreams. What did prisoner dream about frequently? Of bread, cake, cigarettes, and nice warm baths. Your wants and needs become much more simplistic in hardship

    • Because of the high degree of undernourishment which the prisoners suffered, it was natural that the desire for food was the major primitive instinct around which mental life centered. Prisoners when they worked beside each other would talk about their favourite dishes more commonly.

    • There is no discussion about luxury goods or anything, just achieving basic needs and would get pleasure from just discussing achieving these basic needs

  • “I found a little bit of comfort; a small piece of bread which I drew out of my pocket and munched with absorbed delight”

    • Even a small piece of bread at times can bring delight, try and savour your moments so that you can split up your happiness in to multiple parts. If he had eaten all the bread when he had received it he would have only had one moment of happiness and no longer the knowing that by splitting the bread there will be happiness in the future when he ate it again

  • Undernourishment also explains the fact that sexual urges were generally absent. The body first prioritizes it’s basic needs and then looks for other things like sexual intimacy

  • The attempt to develop a sense of humour and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Even in a concentration camp it’s possible to practice this art of living

  • Even in the tough environment of the concentration camps, having some sort small title like camp guard, cook or supervisor gave people perceived value and meaning. They had developed miniature delusions of grandeur with these titles even though in their previous life before being sent to the camp they had ever higher titles (previous a bank president, doctors)

    • Human beings are completely and unavoidability influenced by their surroundings

  • Logotherapy: concept based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning in life

  • According to logotherapy, meaning of life is in three different ways: 1) by creating a work or doing a deed; 2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and 3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering

  • We may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.

  • 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.

  • Story of a man who could not get over the loss of his wife who had died two years ago. In order to help him the therapist asked, " What would have happened, if you had died first and she survived you?" He responded "for her this would have been terrible, how she would have suffered" Therapist said" You see, such suffering has spared her and it was you who helped her spare this suffering, you must now survive and mourn her" the patient immediately stood up shook hands and realized the meaning to his suffering had purpose in that moment the patient changed his attitude towards his unalterable fate by being able to see meaning in his suffering.

  • A person's main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his/her life.

    • "One cannot change a situation that causes suffering, but they can still choose their attitude"

  • Even some prisoners in the Vietnam War were able to see the torture and the harsh environment they endured as something that made them ultimately stronger

  • The quest for meaning is the key to mental health and human flourishing

  • To achieve personal meaning, 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."

  • The book man search for meaning has created the concept of auto bibliotherapy - healing through reading

  • Many war prisoners after reading man's search for meaning were able to come out of strong depression and despair being able to relate to the story


bottom of page