Man’s search for meaning – Viktor E. Frankl | Zsolt Babocsai

Man’s search for meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

The book starts with a vivid account of the author’s experience in natzi concentration camps. It’s an interesting, subjective and yet scientific, point of view that can introduce a new perspective even if one has heard countless survival stories. One of the key points this part makes is that human suffering is absolutely relative. For instance, despite the terrible cold, lack of food and having spent several days lying in their own excrements on the floor of a train wagon, the prisoners experienced outright joy upon arrival at a new camp, just because it had no chimneys (and therefore supposedly gas chambers either) as opposed to Auschwitz.
  • Put the extent of your suffering into perspective by contrasting it with benefits if the outcome that is facilitated by your suffering.
You can take away a man’s freedom to choose his conditions, but his freedom to choose his attitude to those conditions can never be taken away.
  • In the face of unavoidable suffering, remember that you have the freedom to choose your attitude to it.
The author explains his approach to psycho therapy relative to that of Freud, which is based on man’s strive for pleasure, and to Adler’s, based on the strive for power. In contrast, logotherapy puts man’s strive for meaning in the focus. Based on the author’s experience that prisoners with the strongest sense of purpose were the most likely to survive.
A cornerstone of logotherapy, and an idea that should have much wider recognition, is that the natural or healthy state of the human psyche is not equilibrium (a tensionless state). Quite the opposite: the tension between a freely chosen meaning (purpose) to be fulfilled and current reality.  The call of a mission, the strive and struggle leading to its accomplishment.
  • Don’t strive for equilibrium as far as your mental health is concerned. Some tension between a potential that only you can fulfill (a mission to be accomplished) and current reality is normal and even required for mental health.
Existential vacuum is essentially a state of purposelessness, which manifests itself as boredom. It’s the cause of more psychological conditions than distress these days. It derives from the loss of our animalistic instincts a long time ago and the loss of our moral groundedness (desacralization) recently.
Existential frustration is not neurotic, or a disease and should not be treated that way. Rather, one needs guidance towards his purpose that he can potentially fulfill and needs to work towards to.
  • If you are experiencing existential frustration (feel bored and lacking a sense of purpose or depressed), know that you’re not sick, but merely human. Find a mission that #1 makes the world better for at least one person other than you and #2 gets you excited.
The meaning of life in general doesn’t make much sense like there is no best ever chess move either, only the best in a given situation. So the question should be made personal and the answer will arise out of an individual’s unique situation, opportunities and capabilities.
  • Look for the meaning of life in your unique, personal situation. It arises moment by moment from the problems you and your peers experience and that require your capabilities to be solved.
  • When figuring out what to do with your life, forget about yourself. Think about what the world needs and how you can make it happen. The self can only be actualized once its transcended.
  • Think of love as a process in which you grasp the innermost traits of a human being and help her discover and fulfill her unfulfilled potentials. Notice that love has nothing to do with ownership, jealousy and constraints.
  • When you are no longer capable of changing a situation, change yourself.
When a meaning is attributed to suffering, it immediately becomes easier to bear and cope with. Man is capable of making a scrifice for some higher good, but can’t endure pointless suffering. Suffering is not a condition to finding meaning though, rather, meaning can be found despite suffering. If the cause of suffering can be eliminated, it is reasonable to do so. (Own note: adversity may be necessary to find meaning though).
Find meaning by
– accomplish something
– experience something or encountering someone
– or by the attitude you take in the face of unavoidable suffering
Freedom is pointless without responsibility.
  • Purpose first, freedom second
  • If you suffer from anticipatory anxiety (you anticipate a negative outcome, which only happens because you worry about it), treat it with a paradoxical wish. Set out to want the negative outcome you’ve been anxious to avoid. If you actually want to reproduce it, you may find that you can’t.
Pleasure (happiness) is a side effect. If it’s made into a goal by itself (subject of intention and attention), it becomes impossible to attain. Similarly, happiness can’t be pursued, it ensues.
  • Don’t pursue happiness. Pursue a goal that helps someone. Happiness will ensue as a side effect.