How is it possible to introduce a book like this, a great mind such as Viktor Frankl, in the most accurate way? Is it even possible to put all this content into a short book review?
These questions made me reread and rewrite my miserable attempts desperately when starting this month’s book review over and over again. Finally, I decided to leave this difficult task to the only man who knew how to put it straight – to the author himself.
Who was Viktor Emil Frankl?
However, to understand the deeper meaning behind the following insights, it is inevitable to first introduce the author and his remarkable life. Viktor Emil Frankl, born in 1905, was a Viennese neurologist and psychiatrist, who, from an early age onwards, devoted himself to a question that we somehow all carry around with ourselves while “mastering the art of living“: What is the meaning of life?
A few years after the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist seizure of power, Frankl was deported to four different concentration camps due to his Jewish background. Frankl, however, survived all of them to finally return to Vienna and to find out that his whole family had been murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. In the face of this tragedy Frankl started to come to terms with his experiences in the different concentration camps in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. A book, in which Frankl writes about camp life and the horrendous and inhuman circumstances that made it almost impossible for Frankl and his comrades to see a meaning in their lives.
But despite of his hopeless situation “he realized that, no matter what happened, he retained the freedom to choose how to respond to his suffering. He saw this not merely as an option but as his and every person’s responsibility to choose “the way in which he bears his burden.“, William J. Winslade writes in the postscript of the book.
What makes life meaningful at all?
- Can life become meaningless in the face of seemingly endless suffering?
- Is there always, under all kinds of circumstances, a meaning in life?
- Who, if not Viktor Frankl, could have answered all these questions?
Yes, there is always and under any circumstance a meaning to life; that is what Frankl points out in his book over and over again. And that is what his work and his life in itself pointed out more clearly than any book would be able to do.
I decided to find the most essential quotes from the book to convey this powerful message in the most resonant way. It’s just a very small insight into a book that is truly one of the most inspiring books I have read in my whole life.
10 essential lessons about the meaning of life
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.“
“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.”
“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 – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
“In the concentration camps, (…) 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.“
“It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”
“What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. (…) Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
“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 will be able to bear almost any „how“.“
“No one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.”
“According to logotherapy we can discover the 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.”
“Consider a movie: it consists of thousands upon thousands of individual pictures, and each of them makes sense and carries a meaning, yet the meaning of the whole film cannot be seen before its last sequence is shown. However, we cannot understand the whole film without having first understood each of its components, each of the individual pictures. Isn’t it the same with life?”
If you can’t find the time to read this book, at least take the time to watch Viktor Frankl explain his ideas in this short video, and also consider checking out this video on ted.com.
The best Viennese Coffee House to read this book in
Man’s Search for Meaning is not a book you can read while sitting in a Café full of chatting people and loud music in the background. That is why Café Ritter, as one of the most silent coffee houses I have ever been to, offers the perfect atmosphere for reading and thinking about a serious and important topic like this. Its old ambience transports you to a different time just as Viktor Frankl does with his touching book.
Photo Credit: Marija Barisic