Man’s Search For Meaning

Author – Viktor Frankl
Genre – Philosophy, Psychiatry, Self-Help

This ‘classic tribute to hope’ has sold more than 12 million copies, and has consistently been on various ’10 most influential books ever written’ lists. And, its author, Viktor Frankl, is clearly one of the moral heroes of our times.

For our generation, Holocaust is just a historical term. But imagine: 15 million people, including two-thirds of the entire Jewish population in Europe, were actually killed. Viktor Frankl lived through those horrendous concentration camps, where he and others were subjected to the worst forms of torture and inhuman behaviour probably known to mankind. While his entire family, including his pregnant wife, perished, he came out alive to tell this story.

His theory, Logotherapy (Greek: logos – meaning), says that we are happy when we find a meaning, a contribution, a calling in our life. Life without purpose, even with all comfort, will be hollow and aimless. On the contrary, a life of meaning will keep us going, even in the harshest of circumstances. This philosophy is very different from other psychologists like Freud (who believed that life was largely a ‘pursuit for pleasure’) or Alder (who spoke of life as a constant ‘desire for power’). Dr. Frankl shows how, when this will to find a meaning in life is lost (i.e. existential vacuum not knowing our purpose in life), we remain in despair and our physical immunity also reduces leading to various ailments.

The ‘meaning of life’ can be different for different people and even different at different times. Sometimes, it could be in work when we do something we personally find significant or in love when we want to deeply care for someone. It could just be the resolve to come out of a difficult situation unscathed. Man’s search for this purpose and meaning can be a very powerful driver leading to self-transcendence.

In the horrific situation inside the concentration camps, he saw most people break down emotionally, but some others retained their calm and inner strength. In the same adverse situation, most collapsed but some continued to walk through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. Which is why he makes his famous statement, 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 way”.

Why Read it – to help us find our purpose in life, to cope up with challenging times, to be hopeful of the future.