Take-aways from Man’s Search for Meaning

Originally written in 1946 book by Viktor Frankl, the book is a two part chronicle of his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. In the book, the author described his psycho-therapeutic method, which involved identifying a purpose in life to feel positive about, and then immersively imagining that outcome.

According to Frankl, the way a prisoner imagined the future affected his longevity. The book intends to answer the question “How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” Part One constitutes Frankl’s analysis of his experiences in the concentration camps, while Part Two introduces his ideas of meaning and his theory called logotherapy.

Here are 30 significant take aways. Whether you’ve read the book or not, these cogent points directly taken from the book is a further exposition of the book.

1. More people will die from lack of hope, lack of something to live for than they will die from lack of food or medicine.

2. Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.

3. Three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.

4. 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.

5. It insists that life is meaningful and that we must learn to see life as meaningful despite our circumstances. It emphasizes that there is an ultimate purpose to life.

6. Like success, 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.

7. Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart:  The salvation of man is through love and in love.

8. Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.

9. Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds. 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.

10. The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by suffering.

11. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

12. 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—to 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.

13. A man who could not see the end of his “provisional existence” was not able to aim at an ultimate goal in life. He ceased living for the future, in contrast to a man in normal life. Therefore the whole structure of his inner life changed; signs of decay set in which we know from other areas of life. The unemployed worker, for example, is in a similar position. His existence has become provisional and in a certain sense he cannot live for the future or aim at a goal

14. It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future and so the sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect.

15. He who has a way to live for can bear with almost any how. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost.

16. 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. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. It is therefore impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way.

17. The ultimate extreme state for man is that point where he gives up hope.

18. Someone looks down on each of us in difficult hours—a friend, a wife, somebody alive or dead, or a God—and he would not expect us to disappoint him. He would hope to find us suffering proudly—not miserably—knowing how to die.

19. From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two—the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of “pure race”

20. No one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.

21. Not every conflict is necessarily neurotic; some amount of conflict is normal and healthy

22. 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.

23. We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.

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

25. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.

26. 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.

27. The world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.

28. We must answer the questions that life asks of us, and to these questions we can respond only by being responsible for our existence.”

29. Hope and positive energy can turn challenges into triumphs.

30. Suffering is not necessary to find meaning, only that “meaning is possible in spite of suffering.” Indeed, to suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.

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