5 Lessons From Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Reading Length: 5 minutes
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A book by Viktor E. Frankl who tells his experiences as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Afterwards, he identifies ways to find meaning in life using his observations and knowledge of “logotherapy.”

1. Expect and accept suffering.

“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.”

Without suffering, human life cannot be complete. To live is itself a suffering. We will never see a world devoid of suffering and problems.

Despite this, all of us have the ability and freedom to choose our attitude towards that suffering. It is the certain inner decisions we make that will bring a sense of freedom, meaning and purpose. We become who we are based on the inner decisions we make in the face of suffering. Suffering ceases when we find meaning in it. So we should not try to gain pleasure or avoid pain but find meaning in it.

2. Find joy in past memories with loved ones.

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.”

Love is a powerful and strong emotion that can get us through the rough times. During Frankl’s time in concentration camp, he thought about his wife and reminisced about past good memories. Although the present moment is unbearable, the past good memories can provide comfort and warmth. It also distinguishes you from others since these are your memories and experiences which cannot be taken away.

Every month I like to read through my past journal entries to find good memories. Although it’s the past, reading back to those entries allows those memories to come back alive. The memories that evoke a lot of emotions can make me feel like I’m reliving it again.

3. Acknowledge existential frustration.

“Sunday neurosis, that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.”

Existential frustration occurs when an individual questions their:

  • 1) Existence (human mode of being)
  • 2) Meaning of existence
  • 3) Will to meaning (the striving to find a concrete meaning in personal existence)

For example, after being liberated from the concentration camps, Frankl noticed many men were filled with bitterness and continued to suffer despite being free. They discovered that even in liberation, suffering had no limits.

This leads to a meaningless life and is a result of an individual not knowing what he or she wants to do in life. Unfortunately, many people especially the younger generation are turning to drugs because of the feelings of emptiness and meaningless in life. This leads to these 3 facets: depression, aggression and addiction. So we need a reason to be happy. We also need something to look forward to in the future. This means we need a purpose worth living for and a hierarchy of values.

I recall many of my past friends who constantly suffered from Sunday neurosis. They found life meaningless so they never bothered planning something to look forward to in the future. They jumped from job to job, numbed themselves with TV and drugs, and lashed out whenever you offered help. There were periods of my life when I also fell to their influence. But I’m glad to say that the friends I associate with more now are the complete opposite. They find life meaningful, abundant, and are also focused on self development.

4. Take responsibility. Turn tragedy to triumph.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

Stop asking for the meaning of life. Instead, ask what does life expect from us. Life itself means taking responsibility. This is the WHY of our existence. As long as you are alive, there is hope to do that for the future.

The term tragic optimism means being optimistic despite all the pain, guilt and death encountered in life. Turn tragedy to triumph by:

  • 1) Turn suffering to achievement.
  • 2) Deriving guilt to change one self for the better.
  • 3) Deriving life’s transitoriness to take responsibility.

5. The meaning of life depends on each person.

“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.”

It is impossible to define the meaning of life. It calls for a different response to each person. It can depend on the person, specific time in life, personality or situation. It can also keep changing. Frankl suggests to discover meaning through:

  • 1) Creating a work or deed.
  • 2) Experiencing something or someone such as goodness, truth and beauty.
  • 3) Encountering a certain attitude to suffering.

We should live as though we are living for the second time. We should imagine that the present moment has passed. Therefore, we should make the most out of our second life and see ourselves as fully responsible. The more we shift ourselves to something else such as a person or cause, the more meaning we will find in life.

To Recap:

  1. Expect and accept suffering. Suffering is necessary in life. We will never be devoid of it. But it ceases when we find meaning in it.
  2. Find joy in past memories with loved ones. Love is a powerful and strong emotion that can get us through the rough times.
  3. Acknowledge existential frustration. This occurs when we question our existence, meaning of existence and will to meaning. This leads to depression, aggression and addiction.
  4. Take responsibility. Turn tragedy to triumph. Ask what life expects from us, not what we can expect from life. We can do this by turning suffering to achievement, deriving guilt to change oneself for the better and deriving life’s transitoriness to take responsibility.
  5. The meaning of life depends on each person. The meaning of life can keep changing. You can find it by creating a work or deed, experiencing something or someone such as goodness, truth and beauty and encountering a certain attitude to suffering. We should live as though we are living for the second time.

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Published by Jean Soo

My name is Jean Soo. I’m a physical therapy student and blogger. I’ve spent quarantine studying and reading over hundreds of self improvement content. I’ve personally faced my own life transformation through some of these books and articles which I will share with you. You can expect to receive valuable content about building better habits, enhancing productivity and promoting more happiness in life. Stay tuned!

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