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Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning Book Review

Updated on April 13, 2017
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Search for Meaning: Revelation

The classroom smelled like stress and pencil lead and fifty-four pages held their future. Giving the scripted placement test on my Saturday off meant one thing to me - $125, but what did it mean to them? College represents the golden ticket; the way to a meaningful goal-oriented, successful life. And as I watched them mentally scrambling in their seats, I started wondering who would succeed. The girl swearing under her breath? The boy with all the answers? The pale girl with tears in her eyes? The quiet boy with studious glasses or the flirtatious girl behind him?

I was killing time and asking myself these questions when I realized I no better knew the meaning of life than the students in this room had answers to the test. Lately, I'd been feeling disgruntled and I started making lists. Every time someone asked me how I was, I detailed everything that was wrong in my life. Sitting there watching these students teeter on the cusp of adulthood, I figured it was time to stop.

Seach for Meaning - Providence

I stopped because answers come in the strangest places. For two weeks I had been perusing local libraries on a mission to find a timeless classic I'd read about in a magazine blurb. The book was Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist/neurologist, who spent time in concentration camp. Finally, some gracious librarian located a dingy, stained copy and it was sent from a distant E ZBorrow office in Harrisburg, PA. It arrived just as I was finishing up a two week stint of bad luck - I'll spare you the details...

Even in suffering, opportunity is present.
Even in suffering, opportunity is present. | Source

Search for Meaning - Summary

Frankl's view on life's meaning is really quite simple. You may think it trite and unpretentious, but perhaps we've made it too complex. The age-old questions of "Why am I here?" or "What is the meaning of this all?" will never be easily answered, but some thoughts from Frankl's book have been summarized below. Perhaps, like me, you will find some morsel of wisdom that will help lift you out of life's unexpected mire and get you back on track.

  • LIFE IS EXPECTING SOMETHING FROM YOU

Frankl simplifies what he thinks makes life meaningful by using experiences during his encampment. He says, "I remember two cases of would-be suicide, which bore a striking similarity to each other. Both men had talked of their intentions to commit suicide. Both used the typical argument - they had nothing more to expect from life. In both cases it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them." (79)

When people have goals, when they don't give up, when they have something to live for, they are more resilient.

  • EVEN IN SUFFERING, OPPORTUNITY IS PRESENT

Even in suffering and hellish circumstances, Frankl says of man, "...opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden." (78)

We tend to view difficult circumstances as an enemy to the prosperous, wonderful lives we think we deserve to be living. We have a tendency to think that if life gets hard, then it fails to have meaning. This common train of woeful thought is responsible for the vast majority of self-pity victims. Missing the fact that suffering comes to even the best human beings is missing an opportunity that presents itself for self-growth.

  • A TENSIONLESS LIFE SHOULD NOT BE OUR GOAL

We are constantly hearing that in order to rid ourselves of the unhappiness that comes with a meaningless life, we must rid ourselves of stress. Frankl calls this ridding a “tensionless state” and it is often prescribed as a means of well-being.

Frankl says, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” (107)

Always attempting to escape “stress” is simply a way of escaping the striving toward goals that each of us is personally intended to reach.

  • YOU CANNOT BE REPLACED AND YOUR LIFE CANNOT BE REPEATED

People, says Frankl, " are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves... Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therefore, 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 presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed." (105, 110)

We're heard this a thousand times before - we are each unique. If we do not identify our "concrete assignment" in life - it is lost, because only we could fulfill it.

  • RESPOND TO LIFE BY BEING RESPONSIBLE

"Ultimately," according to Frankl, "man should not ask what the meaning of his 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." (110)

How can it get simpler - "...live," says Frankl "as if you were living already for the second time ." (111)

Life is asking us to be responsible.

Your reason, your vocation, your project, your children, your grandchildren, your passion for a charity... whatever it is - it's all waiting for you to discover. Find your specific task for your specific life and then live it.

Addendum

Today, a week later, I lost a hub cap. Instead of adding to my list in my month of bad luck, I got back in car and retraced my drive until I found it in someone's front yard. Even if I hadn't found it, I wasn't going to grieve something replaceable.

The biggest thing was, I didn't add it to the list because the list no longer exists. Instead, I came home in the freshly fallen snow and at 50 years old, I built a snowman... by myself and took a picture of it for my grandson. I reveled in the beauty of nature, my freedom and my physical health because I remembered to live like I was living for the second time.

"Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker." - That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.) - Nietzsche


Frankl, V., (2006). Man's Search for Meaning. Beacon Press.

Live," says Frankl "as if you were living already for the second time ."
Live," says Frankl "as if you were living already for the second time ." | Source

Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. Use the pain as fuel, as a reminder of your strength. -August Wilson

MEAN OF LIFE POLL

What is the meaning of life? (Please choose the answer that is closest to how you would answer this question)

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    • carlajbehr profile image
      Author

      Carla J Behr 4 years ago from NW PA

      Thank you - this book came just at the right time for me! I know own it - it's certainly something to always remember. Much appreciated!

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I read this book many years ago, and think that I'll read it again. I think his perspective that adversity and hardship can bring opportunity for growth is so true. I always found it amazing that after everything that he had been through he had such a positive perspective on life. I really enjoyed this hub - I find myself thinking about the meaning of life more often as I get older. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • carlajbehr profile image
      Author

      Carla J Behr 4 years ago from NW PA

      Thansk Teaches - I agree! Most appreciated! cjb

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Very good review. I love the view on making the best of life's circumstances, it's all in the perspective.

    • carlajbehr profile image
      Author

      Carla J Behr 4 years ago from NW PA

      Thanks for sharing, PS-

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      this sounds like a book that all of us could benefit from reading.

      Life is really what we make it, isn't it? Stuff happens. We address it and move on...the proverbial bowl of lemons may come and choosing to make lemonade has always been an option.

      Thanks for sharing this...I will check it out soon. Glad you found your hub cap. :)

      Angels are on the way :) ps

    • carlajbehr profile image
      Author

      Carla J Behr 4 years ago from NW PA

      Thanks William - the read is worth it. cjb

    • WVitanyi profile image

      WVitanyi 4 years ago from Edinboro, Pennsylvania

      Good job, Carla. Makes me want to read the book.