Man’s Search for Meaning was such a fascinating book to read! In this book the author, Viktor E. Frankl, describes his experiences as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during the second world war. He doesn’t give you the gory details, but rather he focuses on what everyday life was like for the prisoners inside the walls of the most notorious concentration camp in the history of mankind.
It was truly interesting to read about Frankl’s experiences, and I recommend you read it for yourself, but in this blog post I wanted to focus more on the second half of the book, which has something to do with Frankl’s psychotherapeutic method, logotherapy, which helps people identify purpose for their life through positive thinking and imagination.
As for the book as a whole, if I didn’t make it clear already, you should not miss out on this one. It’s an oddly inspiring story about human suffering, which is at the same time somber in its storytelling while managing to paint a clear image of what humans can and will do when faced with odds of 1 to 28 to survive. When all hope is lost, but people are hopeful. How a day can feel long, but a week feels short. How a human’s mind works when faced with untold amounts of suffering and pain – what happens after you get used to it. You will understand all of that after reading the book.
Don’t skip it, as you will learn something important about yourself as well.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to what I wanted to write about today.
“Let me explain why I have employed the term “logotherapy” as the name for my theory. Logos is a Greek word which denotes “meaning.” Logotherapy, or, as it has been called by some authors, “The Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy,” focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning. According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. That is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle (or, we could also term it, the will to pleasure) on which Freudian psychoanalysis is cantered, as well as in constrast to the will to power on which Adlerian psychology, using the term “striving for superiority,” is focused.”
In other words, logotherapy is trying to solve the burning question in people’s mind by trying to help answer the question ‘What is the meaning of life?,’ but it does so through another method than what Freud or Adler psychoanalyses are based on.
The Will To Meaning
“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning. There are some authors who contend that meanings and values are “nothing but defence mechanisms, reaction formations and sublimations.” But as for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my “defence mechanisms,” nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my “reaction formations.” Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!”
I have to agree with Frankl here. Meaning of life has to be something meaningful for it to be called that, and that it is the primary motivation for anyone trying to solve that problem for themselves.
I also have struggled to find my own meaning in life, or, I should say I have struggled to find the willpower to simply “go for it.” I’ve had different kinds of meanings during my life, but only one of them has persisted through all the ups and downs. Perhaps you will find such a meaning for yourself one day too, if you haven’t already.
The Meaning Of Life
“I doubt whether a doctor can answer this question in general terms. 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 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. One should not search for an abstract meaning of 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. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.
As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Thus logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.”
Right. So, basically what he is saying is that the meaning of life is not some grandiose all life encompassing phenomena, but rather meaning of life is something everyone has to figure out for themselves.
As for the meaning itself, it is determined by what kind of a person you are, what you are doing right now, what you will do an hour from now, and what you want to accomplish in life.
For any of this to work in your favor, you must take responsibility for everything that is happening in your life.
My Personal Rambling
Humans can alter their mood with just thoughts alone, and if you have read the first part of the book, you also understand that humans can imagine themselves a future so vivid in their memory, that when that future comes, and it doesn’t align with what they had thought, they might even lose their will to live. Although, what I’m referring to talks about future that didn’t fully depend on the person having these thoughts, but rather on what they hoped the future might hold for them.
Human mind is a very powerful tool, and you can harness it to do great things for you, but it can also cause great amount of pain and suffering if used without caution. Be careful for what you wish for, for it can, in the worst case, be deadly.
The Essence of Existence
“The emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!” It seems to me that there is nothing which would stimulate a man’s sense of responsibleness more than this maxim, which invites him to imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended. Such a precept confronts him with life’s finiteness as well as the finality of what he makes out of both his life and himself.
Logotherapy tries to make the patient fully aware of his own responsibleness; therefore, it must leave to him the option for what, to what, or to whom he understands himself to be responsible. That is why a logotherapist is the least tempted of all psychotherapists to impose value judgments on his patients, for he will never permit the patient to pass to the doctor the responsibility of judging.”
This is a good way to look at life. If you imagine yourself already having lived through your life once, and you are about the make the same mistakes again, it might help you think about your situation a bit better. If nothing else, this is good thinking practice.
Next, however, we get to the meat of the issue:
“By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as thought it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic “the self-transcendence of human existence.” It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. 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. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible on as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”
Human’s are a little weird. We need goals in our lives, and this is exactly what Frankl is talking about here. You need to surrender yourself to the idea of a cause, or for the love of someone else, to fully figure out who you are.
You yourself cannot be the meaning of your own life. It must be something outside of your own control, which is a little unfortunate, but that is the conclusion I’ve come to as well. Once I had figured out very distinct goals myself, I started to see huge differences in my life.
The Meaning of Suffering
“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. 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.
But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering – provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaning thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.”
We all go through phases of suffering through our lives, it’s unavoidable, considering all of us will at the very least have to experience a relative dying, but more than likely a lot more than that suffering is coming our way.
What Frankl wants you to do in those times is to think of the suffering as something that can be turned into an experience that you can be proud that you went through, rather than just think of it as something unnecessarily cruel. It’s not easy to do this, of course, but if you think of what you have already gone through, you will probably find that you survived quite a lot already. You already are a strong, or at least stronger person than you were before, and it’s thanks to the suffering that you went through. Suffering is not only a negative thing.
This is where I’ll end this blog post, but I’ll leave you with one more quote from the book (this is from the first part of the book where he is talking about his experience at the death camp):
“What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. 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 think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our question 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.”
Thank you for reading, and I hope you had a great week.
Again, I highly recommend you read the book. You can buy it here: Man’s Search for Meaning
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