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Reflections on Man’s Search for Meaning

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Reflections on Man’s Search For Meaning

INT 101
Dr. Walker
December 4 2013
Thomas Jefferson wrote – “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”1 The pursuit of happiness seems to be the end game for life, but is it? Viktor Frankl is a concentration camp survivor and goes one level deeper in his book Man’s Search For Meaning. Finding the true meaning in life is the key to self-actualization. Frankl quotes the words of Fredrich Nietzsche – “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”2 Frankl reveals what life was like in the concentration camps. He also discusses Logotherapy, which he created. Frankl was subjected to four different Nazi camps and was dehumanized to a mere number: 119,104. Moreover, Nazis murdered his wife, mother, father, and unborn child, yet Frankl was able to find a purpose for living in all his sufferings. Frankl goes into detail on the concentration camps. Life was hell on earth. What appeared to him was the mind’s power to protect. The longer the stay, the more numbing all human emotion became. There are some behaviors I would like to highlight. They are strong and appear based on Frankl’s experiences in the camps.
People died daily in the camps. The guards played a finger game. They would randomly point, and if you were picked, you died. The simple act of pointing delivered your fate. Prisoners who focused on the WHY to live had a better chance at survival. Frankl determined that a youthful face and eagerness to work increased the chance of survival. One thought controlled each man: to stay alive for the family awaiting him at home.
Viktor wrote about the need for a future goal to give or restore a person's inner strength. The goal to enable humanity to go through difficulties in life. If there is no aim, or purpose, then there is no sense or meaning to carry on. The question of what is the meaning of life has to be discovered and answered by man himself individually. The answer to the meaning of life cannot be sought from the external, other people, life, fate or God. Only you alone can discover YOUR meaning in life and answer this question. We do not need to go through a crisis or difficulties in life to start thinking about the purpose and meaning of it.
One thing you can take away from this book is your freedom to choose how you will respond to a situation. Things happen in life and forces outside your control can dictate what you do in an instant. Life can change on a dime and your decision on your response is a freedom that you possess. That freedom can never be taken away. We need to choose a positive response in a given situation. We need to choose optimism. It is how we perceive something that gives it, it’s meaning. We always have the opportunity to choose our response to a situation. Frankl states, “we who lived in the 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 offered sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms. To choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose ones own way and there were always choice to make.”3
This liberty gave the prisoners the tools to survive. This one lesson can be life changing for anybody that decides to use it properly. God gave us free will and choices. This is a powerful force that we tend to forget or take for granted. It is a spiritual freedom that cannot be taken away by someone else. This is what makes life meaningful and purposeful if we utilize this power constructively in life.
Mental Protection
The atrocities in the camps were hell on earth. The mind will protect and build shields for survival. Viktor discusses the lack of emotions in camp life. After a while, the mind became calloused to the atrocities and pure survival ruled. If a prisoner were found dead, fellow captives stripped them of their clothes. This seems inhuman but pure, natural survival dictates these actions and the mind numbs the body to protect it.
Concentration camps caused their prisoners to lose sight of humanity. Fighting days on end to survive the weather, hunger, disease, injury, labor, etc. forced prisoners to become animalistic. To fight for their lives by any means necessary. Frankl wrote that if they displayed hope or a positive attitude, life would be better.
Power of Love and Passion
The power of love, and how love motivates humanity on is a vital key to freedom. Viktor deems that love is the greatest power and truth that humanity aspires to. The amazing things that people will do out of love are proven throughout history. Be it love for someone, thing, activity, hobby etc. Essentially love and passion gives humans meaning, motivation and energy to survive, live, persevere, and achieve. Thus, we should find our true love in life, to propel us towards greater fulfillment, happiness and achievement in life.
Logotherapy sees man as a being not dominated by a strife or pleasure nor by a will to power but rather by a will to meaning and Man’s Search for Meaning is the basic motivational factor in being human. Logotherapy focuses on the future aspects of a patient’s life, more specifically the meaning that one intends to fulfill. Logos is the Greek word, which denotes meaning. Hence, logotherapy focuses on a person’s search for meaning. This search for meaning in one’s life is postulated as the primary motivational force. It relates to finding purpose in one’s life or tasks.
Discovering Meaning
Logotherapy is composed of three basic principles. The first is that life has meaning in all circumstances, even hopeless ones. The second is that the main motivational force is the will to find meaning in life. The third is that humanity has the freedom of attitudinal choice. This freedom is even in situations of unchangeable affliction. Therefore, Frankl reasons that people discover meaning through creative, experiential, and attitudinal values.
Frankl contends that everything can be taken away from a person but the freedom to choose one’s attitude. He stressed that people should not suffer unnecessarily in order find meaning but that meaning was possible when suffering is inevitable. Frankl suggests that humanity is faced with the failure to comprehend the unlimited nature of meaningfulness. It is the ultimate meaning that surpasses the intellectual capability of humans.
A meaningful life has three main chances to becoming meaningful. Mainly by doing a deed or creating a work, second by experiencing something, something or someone but if need be, if you’re confronted, if you’re facing a situation which is unaltered even then you may be able to squeeze out meaning by the attitude you’re adopting in that situation.
Existential Frustration
A person’s will to meaning can become frustrated. Frankl created the phrase ‘existential frustration’ to explain this phenomenon of misdirected meaning. “A man's concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress.”4 Existential frustration occurs from long periods of boredom and apathy. Frankl believed that common poorly adaptaive behaviors such as depression, aggression, and addiction were caused by a misdirected sense of meaning.
Frankl stated that a boy once wrote to him and said at the age of 17 he had an accident and from that time on was paralyzed from the neck down. And he said I broke my neck, but it did not break me. This is the fundamental idea Frankl is trying to instill. You have the ability to choose your attitude. Despite everything, say yes to life. Find a why to live, and you will be able to endure any how.

1. United States, The Declaration of Independence, 1776.
2. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006), 109.

3. Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning, 75.
4. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 108.

Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search For Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.

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