Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Dr. Frankl was psychiatrist and a concentration camp prisoner during WWII. I read Man’s Search for Meaning just out of college, but recently decided to reread it because I’ve been thinking about the differences between being happy and feeling that your life has meaning. A few of the parts that resonated most with me:

… Success, like happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.

What did the prisoner dream about most frequently? Of bread, cake, cigarettes, and nice warm baths.

Some men lost all hope, but it was the incorrigible optimists who were the most irritating companions.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through huts, comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that 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.

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add deeper meaning to his life.

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced nor can his life be repeated.

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.

We can discover the meaning of life in three different ways: 1. By creating work or doing a deed; 2. by experiencing something or encountering someone; 3. by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

To the European, it is characteristic of 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.

If you liked this post, you might also like the best parts of…:
Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
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Blue Nights by Joan Didion

5 thoughts on “Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

  1. Oh, gosh, thank you for this. There is a philosopher, Susan Wolf, who has recently written a book on meaning in life (“Meaning in Life and Why It Matters”). As I’ve been reading it, I had been thinking about Frankl, and about at least two of the lines you cited above in particular. Thank you for these lovely quotations.


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