Book to read: “Man’s Search for Meaning”

Viktor E. Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” is now one of those select books that friends and family can expect me to be sending them for gifts over the next few years. For those not familiar it, it comprises of two parts: his harrowing account of survival in concentration camps during WWII, the concepts he gleamed from the experience; and a short description of “Logotherapy”, the form of therapy he pioneered that was influenced by it.

It is a short book, however, it took a long time to read because every page had something to think about and reflect upon. There are lessons for anyone, in any stage of life. Lessons for how we conduct ourselves under the best and worst of conditions, and finding the light in ourselves during the world’s darkest moments.


  • The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living.
  • …the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.
  • No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.
  • One literally became a number: dead or alive – that was unimportant; the life of a “number” was completely irrelevant. What stood behind that number mattered even less: the fate, the history, the name of the man.
  • We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the 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 – tho choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
  • Dostoevsk said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine achievement. It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.
  • 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 – add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.
  • This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love.
  • A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and he will be able to bear almost any “how”
  • 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.
  • According to logotherapy we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
  • By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be acutalized.
  • No one can become fully aware of the essence of another human being unless he loves him.
  • When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease such as an inoperatable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves.
  • …man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.
  • At any moment, man must decide, for better or worst, what will be the monument of his existence.
  • Every age has its own collective neurosis, and every age needs its own psychotherapy to cope with it.
  • Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.
  • Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.
  • A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment – he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.
  • For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worst unless each of us does his best. So let us be alert – alert in a twofold sense: Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.


Wikipedia: “Viktor Frankl”

Wikipedia: “Logotherapy”

Wikiquote: “Man’s Search for Meaning”

Viktor Frankl Institute

Also related:

Frankl was a huge influence on Stepen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.