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Victor Frankl: The Value of Meaning

Updated on April 4, 2011

Victor Frankl Proves That Having a Meaning to Life IS The Human Answer

Victor Frankl was a physician and neurologist until in 1942 he and his wife and parents entered Auschwitz, one of the most notorious death camps of the Nazis. He was the only one who survived.

He worked a laborer's jobs, but they also put him in the hospital. He did clandestine work to prevent despondency and suicide among his fellow inmates He never lost the purpose and meaning of his life.

From this, he developed a philosophy of the meaning of life and its accompanying logotherapy.

While Frankl's philosophy and psychology demand a personal responsibility from all of us, it also gives hope to everyone, no matter what the condition might be.

After the camps were liberated by the allies, Frankl wrote his book, Man's Search for Meaning, which is one of the most important and uplifting philosophies that I have discovered.

Victor Frankl "I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones. And I thought that if the point were demonstrated in a situation as extreme as that in a concentration camp, my book might gain a hearing. I therefore felt responsible for writing down what I had gone through, for I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair."

Victor Frankl Speaks

"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves."

"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves."
"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves."

Logotherapy: Victor Frankl's Greatest Contribution to Humankind

Freud believed in the will to pleasure.

Adler believed in the will to power.

Frankl believed in the will to meaning. He had suffered more than any of the other two men, but from this he came to believe that not only is meaning essential to human life, but that it is essential that each human is responsible to create his or her own meaning.

Logotherapy is based on these premises.

1. Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.

2. Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.

3. We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

He not only believed in meaning, but believed in personal responsibility for that meaning.

Frankl, in logotherapy cautions against making too much or too little of outward goals. His view of neurosis is that there are two kinds.

The first is hyperintention, a pathological forced intention to some end that make that end unobtainable.

That second is hyper-reflection, an excessive attention to oneself and one's obstacles.

The goal should be balance of intention with a firm and strong sense of one's meaning.

The Meaning of Life:

"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather 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."

Man's Search for Meaning, p.172

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On Choosing One's Attitude:

"Everything can be taken from a man but ...the last of the human freedoms - to choose

one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." p.104

only two races of men exist: decent and non-decent ones. These are found in all races and classes

People Always Have Control Over Attitude:

"There is also purpose in life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man's attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces." p.106

From "Man's Search for Meaning" by Victor Frankl

"We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth - that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way - an honorable way - in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory."

This Is the Entrance to Auschwitz, the Notorious Death Camp Where Victor Frankl, Slaved and Developed His Philosophy

This Is the Entrance to Auschwitz, the Notorious Death Camp Where Victor Frankl, Slaved and Developed His Philosophy
This Is the Entrance to Auschwitz, the Notorious Death Camp Where Victor Frankl, Slaved and Developed His Philosophy

I Have Seen Victor Frankl's Philosophy in Other Survivors

On Choosing One's Attitude

"Everything can be taken from a man but ...the last of the human freedoms - to choose

one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." p.104

I had a professor in graduate school who had an old European accent. One day I told her about my frustrations with a field work assignment. I was doing a group with women graduating from an Ivy League college. They were suffering angst about their futures. Since they had come from privileged backgrounds and I was struggling to be in school, I had very little patience with their very little problems.

She smiled patiently at me and said, "Ah, I remember how hard it is to graduate, such worries."

Then she told me that she graduated from the University of Warsaw, just before the opening of the Warsaw Ghetto where she was imprisoned. She went from there to Auschwitz where she stayed and literally slaved for the rest of the war.

My mouth dropped open and I couldn't speak for a while, I just listened to her humanity and purpose in life.

I was ashamed. I realized that while the problems of the future Yuppies may look small to me, the biggest hardship I ever had was nothing compared to what she suffered.

I realized then that if she could give honor to these young women and their angst, I could certainly try. This is one of the most important lessons I learned in my career.

My professor's meaning in life was to empathize with and aid other people. Frankl's philosophy and her example has given meaning to my career, or as Frankl would have it, I made it a meaning.

Three Humanitarian's Deaths: Mother Theresa, Princess Diana and Victor Frankl

I have heard that deaths, like other things, come in threes. I remember people commenting that Princess Diana, who worked on many social issues died 5 days before Mother Theresa.

No one commented that Victor Frankl died 4 days after Diana.

Deaths of humanitarians came in threes that year.

Princess Diana: 8/31/97

Victor Frankl: 9/4/97

Mother Theresa: 9/5/97

Victor Frankl's Sense of Meaning Helped Him Survive the Unsurvivable

He was the living proof of his philosophy of the importance of establishing a meaning for your life.

Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

This book is the cornerstone of Frankl's work. He went into the concentration camp a neurologist, but developed his philosophy for psychology while there.

He suffered horribly as did millions of others. Through his experiences he came to believe that those who survived the camps were those who developed a meaning for their own lives and lived by that meaning, even in the most dire circumstances.

Of course, this did not include those who were put in gas chambers or shot, but among the millions who were worked to death, it was those with the will to meaning that mattered.

While Frankl does describe the conditions and life in Auschwitz, he does this only to prove that what he says is true. That people can decide who and what they will be under any conditions.

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Humanitarians Who Died Just Before and After Victor Frankl

Humanitarians Who Died Just Before and After Victor Frankl
Humanitarians Who Died Just Before and After Victor Frankl

What is your meaning? Who decides what it is for you?

What Do You Think Is the Meaning of Life?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Margo, this is a great question. And I'm afraid I don't have an answer worthy of the question. I do think Frankl comes close to the answer when he tells us that regardless of what happens to us, we retain the freedom to choose how to respond. I have been re-thinking the concept of free will recently (after doing a little reading on the subject by Sam Harris), so I'm not confident that we are truly free to choose our responses. Nonetheless, I want to believe that we ARE free to choose. In answer to your question, "Who decides what it is for you?" - I decide. I get input from many different sources, but ultimately I believe that I decide what the Meaning of Life is for me - as everyone else has the freedom and responsibility to decide for themselves. Thanks for sharing this lens with us.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I did notice when Victor Frankl passed on but there was such a flurry about Mother Theresa And Princess Diana that he seemed to be overlooked by most of the world. His humanitarian contribution is no less and his impact on lives will continue as we seek true meaning and then seek it again as we get encumbered by the things of this world and the tyranny of the urgent that seems to rob our time from higher pursuits. Another excellent tribute to a hero of our times Margo.

    • whiteskyline lm profile image

      whiteskyline lm 5 years ago

      I just received the notification of this comment, and realized I commented on his book 'Man's Search For Meaning' more so than your question.

      For starters, to live meaning-fully, I will quote my bio: 'Live life how you wish to, follow your bliss, take action, prioritize happiness, your hobbies and passions into your life.'

      Now, as far as what I think is the meaning of life. first of all, I love this question and perhaps spend some time every single day pondering this. My belief for this has evolved constantly over the years, and still does. For some time I thought it was enlightenment, preceeded by a path with communion with God. Maybe it still is, yet my belief is a tad less spiritual and even perhaps seemingly more materialistic, but from a spiritual standpoint.

      My belief has shifted since I found myself in a hurry to be enlightened, and it is a subject I simply don't know about 100%. I suspect that when we merge back onto source, or whatever one's belief is, we will taste it then, and maybe running towards enlightenment is hastening my demise. On that note, we are all one, and this is all an illusion etc., which are pretty much scientific facts at this point through the studies of quantum mechanics etc. Launching off of that premise, I may be one with my car and my girlfriend and money, but I sure love racing my car, experiencing love with my girlfriend, and circulating money, illusion as they may be. So, from there, the meaning to life to me is to enjoy each moment, and really truly be true to yourself from the deepest most profound meaning of that statement. Love and honor yourself by being true to yourself, allowing in peace and joy and bliss into your being, and one person that has a bit more peace, joy and bliss within them, just made the world a more peaceful, joyous and blissful place, for a peaceful world is a world with people who are filled with peace. So at present., I feel I am most helpful and altruistic by loving myself in every meaning of the word, and loving others is synonymous with that in itself.

      As you can see, retorting a simple answer to this is a no fly zone for this guy.

      Namaste

      P.S.

      Thanks so much for the blessings, much appreciation is felt :)

      My captcha word is authentic, how cool is that?

    • whiteskyline lm profile image

      whiteskyline lm 5 years ago

      I think it is very powerful. He had a true experience that revealed what was most valuable, and has touched many lives because of it. I find him deeply intellectual, and wouldn't even be able to define his meaning, although the essence of altruism seems to permeate his works.

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 6 years ago

      Great lens, featured on my Holocoast Memorial Day UK lens: http://www.squidoo.com/holocaust-memorial-day-unit...

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      It is probably a very individual thing. I feel compelled to learn and to improve. I am also vocational in my career. It's a bit complex to put in a few words. Great lens by the way.

    • profile image

      7Suze7 6 years ago

      Wow, simply, Wow (and then I looked down and my security word is 'wowsquid' hmm..

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 6 years ago

      Nice tribute lens and featured this on Complex Thought or Complexity of Thinking

    • Grandma-Marilyn profile image

      Grandma-Marilyn 6 years ago

      Great Lens. The meaning of life is to help others and the Lord decides mine.

    • Andy-Po profile image

      Andy 6 years ago from London, England

      Great lens. Very interesting.

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 6 years ago from Western Mass

      frankl has such an amazing and inspiring story to share. thanks for spreading the word.

    • ThruMyEyes LM profile image

      ThruMyEyes LM 6 years ago

      What a great lens, very informative.

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 6 years ago

      My security word is serendipitously megalens. Angel Blessing

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have read Frankl and continued to use his words to inspire many. I can only imagine what he and the others with him had to go through. Thanks for creating this lens. I still read him whenever I feel discouraged.

    • profile image

      reasonablerobby 6 years ago

      Simply profound. I have been meaning to read Frankl's work and this is the ideal nudge. His classification of people into decent /non decent does it for me. Critical Theorist Eric Fromm similarly describes people as 'life enhancing' or 'life thwarting'. How he kept sane in the death camps is a testament to the capability of human spirit. Incredible person.

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 6 years ago

      Exceptional and I'm so sorry it has taken me so long to get here. Amazing really, that people who suffered so much could have such a great meaning about life. A sad topic but. Blessed by an Angel.

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 6 years ago

      Golly - he died around the same time as Mother Teresa and Princess Diana? I totally missed that - how symbolically relevant. Lensrolling right back to 'existential psychotherapy'.

    • ZablonMukuba profile image

      ZablonMukuba 6 years ago

      awesome

    • Zhana21 profile image

      Zhana 7 years ago

      Very inspiring lens. Thank you for this.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Hello! I stumbled onto your article googling the image of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana. What a coincidence, the content of your lens, because I heard the excerpt from his book read on the radio, about the night march and his wife's image keeping him going. I never heard the end of the story and wondered, "Did his wife live? Did he?"

      So, thanks for telling the rest of the story! And I do so appreciate Frankl's philosophy of meaning to one's life.

      I am a Christian and believe we are all "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14) by God's hand for a purpose. " 'I know the plans I have for you', says the Lord...plans to give you hope and a future.' " (Jeremiah 29:11)

      I will read Frankl's book now that I've come across it, and the other encouraging lenses you recommended. Thanks, Gloris www.gloriadelia.wordpress.com

      p.s. I have a story of someone who also chose to "define his meaning" in horrible circumstances on my blog: http://gloriadelia.wordpress.com/2009/10/03/friday...

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      A wonderfully thoughtful lens! Intriguing -- "Logotherapy is based on these premises. 1. Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones." -- nicely done my dear!

    • HenryE LM profile image

      HenryE LM 8 years ago

      I've read his book twice now and it was wonderful both times! So many different insights. To imagine the things he's been through...so sad, but he's made good come from it.

      Henry

      www.geothermalexperts.net

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

    • profile image

      Rich_Girl 8 years ago

      His book is one of the books that had a great impact on my life.Inspiring lens.

    • sittonbull profile image

      sittonbull 8 years ago

      Margo this is a great lens on a remarkable man and his significant contribution to mankind. I'm lensrolling it to my new lens on inspiration and adding it to the plexo of inspirational lenses at the bottom. :-)

    • profile image

      cjjc 8 years ago

      Margo, I am well versed in Frankl and this is a wonderful lens, which teases out and conveys poignantly to the reader ideas that are not always easily understood. Your writing is great. I agree with Julie, the interviews blew me away! They really captured his essence didn't they? The bolded quote is one of the most powerful i've ever read. I use it often in my teachings.

      5* and a FAV !

    • julcal profile image

      julcal 8 years ago

      This was a joy to read, Margo! The videos blew me away! I've heard of his philosophy and some of his quotes from my husband, who knows his subject matter well. I'm going to pass this lens on to him for a peak - I know he'll enjoy it.

      The bolded quote on love brought tears to my eyes. 5*, a FAV, facebook and a tweet :)

      You did it again, Margo! You ARE the best!

      Julie

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I have not read Victor Frankl's book as yet - but am certainly going to obtain from the local library this afternoon on route home! Another book about the meaning of life which is absolutely wonderful is Rick Warren's book THE PURPOSE DRIVEN life. Having said that - the Bible -

      1 John 2:27 God tell us that our only Teacher is the Holy Spirit. I do believe that God allowed and protected people like Victor Frankl to write this book. Cannot wait to read it after all I have read on the internet about him! Take care!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      one woman in her search for meaning can hear life in the song of a bird or in watching the full moon rise. In my search for meaning it became obvious that meaning for me is connected to interest and interest lies at the heart of where my attention is. Meaning, therefore, must be connected to what I determine to notice and connect to. If it's connection to life giving value or to fear and despair, it's my choice. Knowing I have that choice though, has taken me years to appreciate.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      God put us on this Earth for a reason. Its up to us to figure out why.

      Great lens

      Lizzy

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 8 years ago

      I read Man's Search for Meaning several years ago. I've read a lot about the concentration camps. Totally horrifying that humans can do that to each other. "The greatest of these is love."

    • TheGallionMan profile image

      TheGallionMan 8 years ago

      Great lens about a great man. I have read "Man's search for meaning" and it is one of the books that has left a lasting impression. As a coach for youth sports I have often reminded my players that you can not change what others do to you, especially when treated unfairly. You can only change how you respond to others and the decision is yours. This is a great lesson for all of us. Victor Frankl was a gift to all of humanity. GREAT JOB.

    • TraceyM2 profile image

      TraceyM2 8 years ago

      Fantastic lens. I hadn't heard of Victor Frankl. Many people who came out of the camps chose silence because they couldn't articulate the horrors. It's fantastic to see that one man who had lost so much, spoke and became such an inspiration. I know what my next Amazon purchase is :)

    • Franksterk profile image

      Frankie Kangas 8 years ago from California

      Absolutely excellent lens. I read Man's Search for Meaning almost 30 years ago. It had a profound impact on me. I'll have to go find my copy (I'm sure I kept it) and reread it. 5 stars, favorite and I'm already a big FAN! Bear hugs, Frankie aka Bearmeister

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Oh Margo. This is wonderful and so thought provoking. Very powerful.

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 8 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      This is a great, inspirational lens about a great and inspirational man.

    • papawu profile image

      papawu 8 years ago

      Fantastic lens on a phenomenal human being. I have done a great deal of research and reading about the Holocaust over the years and have seldom come across figures as powerful as Dr. Vic. Don't get me wrong, all those who manged to survive this incredibly dark time in human history developed some sort of philosophy, but not many came forth with it. I have had the privilege of meeting a couple of actual survivors in my life and have always taken some kind of wisdom away with me.

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      Joan4 8 years ago

      Margo, this is a powerful lens with great lessons for all of us! Thank you!

      For me, the meaning of life is love - how I show it, how I feel it, how I live it - and yes, that is my choice. Thankfully I can choose to live in an attitude of love. Wow!

    • profile image

      Joan4 8 years ago

      Margo, this is a powerful lens with great lessons for all of us! Thank you!

      For me, the meaning of life is love - how I show it, how I feel it, how I live it - and yes, that is my choice. Thankfully I can choose to live in an attitude of love. Wow!