“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.”
Man’s Search for Meaning is a nonfiction work by Victor E. Frankl first published in 1946. This book is a biography that focuses on Frankl’s experiences in the concentration camps and through that lessons for mental/spiritual survival.
I have heard about Frankl’s book a few times but it did not seem like anything I wanted to read too badly. Or I think I have read enough fiction and nonfiction about holocaust and World War II and I just feel like vomiting after reading these sort of books and have since steered away from them. So I suppose for my mental health, I tend to go more for nonfiction about business or then just fantasy and science fiction. However, I came across a quote from Man’s Search for Meaning via another book I was reading (The Sh*t They Never Taught You: What You Can Learn from Books by Adam Ashton and Adam Jones) and those tiny nitpicks from this book were enough for me to start reading this.
Frankl describes his life in Nazi concentration camps and how many times he is in situations where he is inches from dying, but still miraculously survives. He writes about so many who base their existence on hope of seeing themselves reunite with their families for the following Christmas and then when that doesn’t happen, people are completely destroyed and seemed to let go of life. And there was little value placed on human life so you had to be clear about why life.
Thinking in Man’s Search for Meaning is phenomenal. I have no idea how people in the worst moments of their lives come up with something like this. I think we all sometimes wonder what is the point in life and where is the meaning. Now imagine having these thoughts while surrounded by countless horrors and deaths.
There are few lines that resonated with me more so than others:
“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 . 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. 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.”
“Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn our backs. “
“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.”
“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”
For me this was very powerful read. Extraordinarily clear thoughts and after this, I do want to look into his other works around logotherapy. 5/5 stars
Don’t aim at success. The more you aim 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 personal 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. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”
How-To Read Man’s Search for Meaning
1. I get a little queasy around holocaust books. Enough so, that I now usually avoid them. I somehow still read Man’s Search for Meaning and it was not as bad as some other fictional and nonfictional worlds. Not a long book, roughly 150 pages.
2. This book helped me to better grasp “the meaning of life” and it really got me thinking more about things. And maybe be less concentrated on myself and to expand my view into life. If you are depressed or having these sort of thoughts, I recommend reading this.
3. Logotherapy part of the book was not that widely translated or included for this work, it is further explored in his other works.
Picture credit: Roland Geider (Ogre), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
What are you reading? Have you read this? Thoughts?