Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

He discovered logotherapy in prison. His entire family and his wife died in the prisons. Only his sister and Viktor survived. He is a psychiatrist by profession. His work is similar to Sigmund Freud (anxiety is caused by conflicting and unconscious motives). Frankl argues that suicide is usually because the sufferer fails to find meaning in his existence. He sought strategies to preserve remnants of one’s life in prison. The theme of existentialism – to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. The last of the human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances. Many people are also seeking meaning in their lives. I wanted to show that life holds meaning under all circumstances. However, his initial intention was to publish it anonymously. Although he had a visa to head back to the US during the war, he chose to stay in Vienna to take care of his parents.

Don’t aim at success – the more you aim and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For 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. – Viktor Frankl

Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands of you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. – Viktor Frankl

It will try to describe what everyday life in the concentration camp was. A life of a common prisoner. Names were called and those sick or feeble ones would be taken to another camp, where they would face the gas chambers (90%). Prisoners were identified by number. The man in prison might give biased views of his life in prison. The author tries to avoid any bias. He was not employed as a psychiatrist in the camp. He was number 119104 and most of the time was working on building the railway. Also, he helped to work on a tunnel (which he had coupons to obtain soup for consumption). There are 3 periods to an inmate’s life. 1. The period following his admission; 2. The period when he is well entrenched in camp routine; 3. Period following his release and liberation.

The first phase is usually shock. ‘Delusion of reprieve’ is the moment where a condemned man, just before execution, feels he might get reprieve. The trains and sheds were overcrowded and conditions were poor. An officer would screen people and divide them into whether they could work or whether they could not. He was placed in the group which could do manual work. For 90% of the people on the train, it was death. SS took their watches and allowed them to have a bath. Everything was taken away from them. He was forced to give in a manuscript which contained his life’s work. Their entire bodies were shaven next. They were now completely stark naked. Those who defied orders were whipped. Everyone was coldly curious about what would happen next. Sleeping conditions were poor and it was very cold. Prisoners had to wear the same shirt for half a year. A man is very adaptable and can usually adapt to different conditions. In the first phase, many did not commit suicide. If you want to live, you have to look as fit as possible. Shave with glass if possible. A prisoner who was in a second phase came to talk to them.

The thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone, if only for a brief time. It was born of the hopelessness of the situation, the constant danger of death looming over us daily and hourly, and the closeness of the deaths suffered by many of the others. – Viktor Frankl

The newly arrived prisoner experienced the tortures of other most painful emotions, all of which he tries to deaden. First of all, there was his boundless longing for his family and his home. This often could become so acute that he felt himself consumed by longing. Then there was disgust; disgust with all the ugliness which surround him, even in its mere external forms. – Viktor Frankl

In the second phase of prison, one is immune to seeing the torture of others. After a typhus patient died, those around him took his belongings and had no feeling. Everyone suffered from the chronic lack of food. Two hours before, he was talking to the man, who was now dead and being dragged away. Beatings were for sometimes, no reason. Physical pain did not hurt as much the injustice of it all. The guards called them pigs and hit him if he tried to help other comrades. Indignation can rouse the most hardened prisoner. The Capo in his working party liked him. He was suffering from edema where the legs were swollen. The shoes were always wet and prone to frostbite. It was better to be at the front of the marching group as you had to stop less often and later run to catch up. The Capo helped to smuggle him to another workparty. He had to work for foremen now. In the second phase, most people were just happy to be alive. There was no dream as bad as being in the concentration camp. People died in the camps from undernourishment. Sexual urge was absent during times of hunger. There was little sexual perversion. He was moved from Auschwitz to Dachau. Some had lost hope that the war would end. Religion suddenly seemed too powerful. It was possible for a spiritual life to begin. To some, their inner selves were largely intact. He kept thinking about his wife while marching. Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. He resorted to imaginary conversations with his wife. There is meaning in your spiritual being, your inner self. There was no way to find out whether his wife was alive. He kept thinking about in his own home and going about daily chores. One learns to appreciate beauty and art like never before. Sunsets were amazingly beautiful. He felt her presence nearby. Prisoners were allowed to sing during meals. Art was virtually non-existent. Humor was a good tool for self-preservation. Learn to tell each other a humourous story from time to time. Dachau camp had no gas chamber facilities. The air-raid siren saved him because work had to be stopped on a particular day. He drew up a balance sheet of pleasures in prison. A chief doctor brought him away to volunteer and dispense medical advice to typhus patients. He agreed. The warrant officer had to take care of the two doctors assigned. They felt like sheep. The key was not to remain conspicuous to the guards. . There were corpses near him, which did not bother him. He checked the patients pulses and dispensed medicine when necessary. The desperately ill received no medication.

Those who still had a chance to work were not sentimental about seeing others being transported away. He answered questions by the guards truthfully. After he left for another camp, cannibalism broke out in his old camp. It was ridiculous. Everyone was afraid to make decisions. He thought about escape. However, later, he decided not to do it. The camp would be burnt down to the ground the next day. He and his friend were tasked to bury people outside of the barbed wires. At that time, the International Red Cross arrived. However, the red cross delegate said that no one should leave the camp. He and his friend were not loading on to the trucks. A white flag was seen floating in the wind. The Germans had surrendered. Those in the trucks were taken to huts, where they were burned to death. Many prisoners suffered from an inferiority complex. He was forced to keep the hut clean as well. Fate can offer you a chance to meet death in a dignified manner. The tree told a woman that she has eternal life (knowing that she only has a few days to live). It is saddening to not know how long will your stay in prison be. It is only a provisional existence. This form of prisoner cannot live for the future and cannot aim for goals in life. The unemployed worker is similar in this sense. Time-experience was warped in prison. A day would seem like a week without any goal to aim for. There was no future and no goal. The outside life was now like a ghost to a prisoner. Such people would not last long in prison. Rather, it is better to think about the future and grow spiritually and imagine a better place. Few could reach great spiritual heights. One could treat life as a challenge. This was the better route to take. He imagined himself lecturing psychology to a group of students even while in the concentration camp. Some people just refused to move and gave up. The lost of hope and courage can have a deadly effect. Death rates usually peaked at around Christmas as people thought they could get home after Christmas. You need to find a ‘why’ to live. For prisoners, they do not ask for the meaning of life. Face the suffering and don’t be blindly optimistic.

It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future – sub specie aeternitatis. And that in his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task. – Viktor Frankl

The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay. – Viktor Frankl

I told my comrades that human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death. – Viktor Frankl

Apathy, the blunting of the emotions and the feeling that one could not care any more, were the symptoms arising during the second stage of the prisoner’s psychological actions, and which eventually made him insensitive to the daily and hourly beatings. – Viktor Frankl

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. – Viktor Frankl

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 contemplation of his beloved. – Viktor Frankl

In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious ‘Yes’ in answer to my question of the existence for an ultimate purpose. – Viktor Frankl

The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of trick learned while mastering the art of living. – Viktor Frankl

One literally became a number: dead or alive – that was unimportant; the life of a ‘number’ was completely irrelevant. What stood behind that number and that life mattered even less: the fate, the history, the name of the man. – Viktor Frankl

Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. – Viktor Frankl

An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfilment in experiencing beauty, art or nature. – Viktor Frankl

But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. – Viktor Frankl

When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. – Viktor Frankl

This is the third phase of prison. This is the psychology of a prisoner after his release. Among the guards, there were a few sadists. These guards were used for sadistic torture. Most of the guards were hardened by the methods used in camps. They were some guards who took pity on them. There are only two races of men: ‘decent’ and ‘indecent’. Once the white flag was raised, the guards changed into their civilian attire and left. The prisoners could not understand what freedom meant. Although they entered a meadow full of flowers, they could not feel joy yet. They had lost their ability to feel pleasure and had to learn it slowly again. This is known as ‘depersonalization.’ The body kept eating after release from prison. The tongue had been loosened. He walked for miles and miles in the meadow. A man still needs spiritual help or he could suffer damage to his moral and spiritual being. This was the moral deformity. Bitterness and disillusionment also results. One could feel that they could take on more suffering. Sometimes, no one awaited their return as their family members had been gassed. There is no need to fear anymore.

Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent and indecent people. In this sense, no group is “pure race” – and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards. – Viktor Frankl

Logotherapy focuses on the patient’s future. It is to find meaning in the patient’s living. Logo means meaning. The strive to find meaning should be the primary motivation in life. Will for meaning and not will for happiness. There should be something or someone in your life that you should be willing to die for. It is possible to enter into a state of ‘existential frustration’. To many people, they face an ‘existential vacuum’. This is a complete state of boredom. Many people do not know what to do with their free time. The same happens to old people and pensioners. The meaning of life can differ over time. Logotherapy is not prescriptive but rather allows one to explore what he/she considers meaning. You can discover meaning by one of the three ways. However, the suffering must be unavoidable and cannot be self-inflicted. Can an ape appreciate suffering? Procreation is not the only meaning of life. Never think of your sufferings are in vain. Logotherapy is activistic. He practices something called paradoxical intention. For a patient who suffers from sleeplessness, he will challenge the person ‘try to stay awake as long as possible’. Man is not just a victim of outside circumstances. Man cannot always have the ability to decide and what he will become in the next moment.

Yet one of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions, to grow beyond them. Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary. – Viktor Frankl

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. – Viktor Frankl

The search for 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. – Viktor Frankl

In the Nazi concentration camps, one could have witnessed that those who knew that there was a task waiting for them were most apt to survive. – Viktor Frankl

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. 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. – Viktor Frankl

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfilment. Therein cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. – Viktor Frankl

It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfil 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. – Viktor Frankl

Discover meaning in life in three different ways (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; (3) by the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering. – Viktor Frankl

Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. 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 actualized. – Viktor Frankl

In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice. – Viktor Frankl

It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning. – Viktor Frankl

Tragic optimism is when one is optimistic when experiencing (1) pain; (2) guilt; (3) death. This is trying to make the best of every situation, no matter what the circumstances. This means any of the following. (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action. One cannot be forced to feel hopeful or overly optimistic. Happiness cannot be pursued. If you try to laugh for no reason, it is known as ‘hyper-intention’. For young people, it was about giving up on their life and resorting to drugs. Most forms of depression result from existential vacuum. People can be united to a challenge where collectively they had to fulfil. How does one go about finding meaning in life?

I view my life as being abundant with meaning and purpose. The attitude that I adopted on that fateful day has become my personal credo for life: I broke my neck, it didn’t break me. I am currently enrolled in my first psychology course in college. I believe that my handicap will only enhance my ability to help others. I know that without the suffering, the growth that I have achieved would have been impossible. – Jerry Long

Young people should envy old people. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past – the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized – and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past. – Viktor Frankl

Once an individual’s search for a meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering. – Viktor Frankl

Being jobless was equated with being useless, and being useless was equated with a meaningless life. – Viktor Frankl

The moment that these people engaged in volunteer work, their depression disappeared…Man does not live for welfare alone. – Viktor Frankl



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