Mindful Reading: Man's Search for Meaning

I learned about this month's book, Man's Search For Meaning, years ago after seeing it on many different 'must read' book lists. Not promising to have the answers on what makes life worth living, rather imploring people to find some sort of meaning in your life, this book gives a fresh perspective on the self-help trend.

The truth is, Frankl's experience which led him to have this wonderful perspective on life is quite dark. He is a concentration camp survivor and shares his story as a way to define how this concept of creating a meaningful life came to be. His accounts are as you would expect, but the book does not focus on the suffering as much as it does the strength that Frankl was able to find.


Man's Search For Meaning is an uplifting and inspirational story of a man who survived the Holocaust and reflected on his experiences to gain a different perspective. Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist so his profession definitely dictated the way he viewed suffering, both his own and what he witnessed of others.

Instead of allowing it to destroy him, he chose to create a new style of therapy called Logotherapy based on his experiences. Frankl believed in making meaning from all situations in life, positive, negative and everything in between. His version of existentialism provides a new way to question life's meaning and create perspective for yourself rather than allowing circumstances to dictate your perspective.

Powerful Messages:

"Frankl approvingly quotes the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”--Foreword, Harold S. Kushner

I find this to be such a powerful quote and love the meaning behind it. If we knew that there was a greater purpose from our individual lives and that the challenges could provide meaning in some way, perhaps we could sit with our pain and discomfort a little easier knowing that we will gain something.

"For 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. 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."-- I Experiences in a Concentration Camp

The path to happiness or fulfillment will obviously be different for different people but even within the same person's life, it can change. Once we recognize that bumps in the road are normal and that the path to meaning is defined within us, we can take more control over our outcomes.

"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." -- II Logotherapy in a Nutshell

Frankl theorizes that as humans, we are bigger than our instincts to fill our basic needs, procreate, and merely survive. He proposes that meaning plays a larger role in our lives and that living by our individual set of values, ideals, wants and needs is a more realistic way to look at how we are driven. 

"According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life 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." -- II Logotherapy in a Nutshell

In this framework, people are encouraged to take responsibility for their life path. Rather than it being dictated by societal norms or generalizations, Frankl wanted each individual to see their uniqueness and individuality. He explained that meaning can come from the work that we do, the power of the human connection and interacting with others, and by how we respond to suffering.

"We must never forget that 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." -- II Logotherapy in a Nutshell

Often times we will let tragic events dictate our lives. It is hard not to have that happen. However, if you have the support and strength to do so, Frankl implores people to dictate how they respond to challenging situations rather than letting them dictate a person's outlook and future.

"After all, “saying yes to life in spite of everything,” to use the phrase in which the title of a German book of mine is couched, presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable. And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive." --Postscript 1984

I loved seeing this quote "say yes to life in spite of everything." It would be terribly easy to give up the moment that we face a struggle. What if we said "yes" instead and were faced with the difficulty?

"To the European, it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to “be happy.” 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." --Postscript 1984

 Let's all work on finding our reason to be happy, our meaning for living that is unique and our own. It might change from time to time, year to year, or moment to moment, but we are always able to find meaning in life. 

Get involved in the conversation with me. I would love to hear your thoughts on Man's Search For Meaning.


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