52 in 52 Book Summaries

Book Summary: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl | Forces of Habit

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Forces of habit journal summaryMan's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl


The Essence

 An autobiographical account of the horrors of life within a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Enduring seemingly indescribable hardships, Psychologist Viktor Frankl was inhumanely beaten, degraded, and placed under insurmountable distress. But he managed to not only survive; he discovered a theory to explain the meaning of life. Lifes focus is not on seeking out pleasures or avoiding the misery. It is a meaning that makes life that matters. But this isn’t a claim to have developed a universal recipe for life’s purpose. The meaning of anyone’s life is a subjective venture. Life’s meaning varies. It is fluid, always changing with the context of the perceiver's life. What’s most important is that each and every one of us has some meaning. Without it, we leave room for stagnation, and mental pathologies become almost inevitable. Any hardship can be withstood when we have meaning. Frankel himself became living proof of the ability of meaning to save a life. When everything was lost, one freedom stood; Frankl’s attitude in his circumstance. Meaning fortified Frankl’s mind against the neurosis that began to plague the fellow prisoners as they lived day in and day out with a higher likelihood of death at any moment then anyone ever normally endures. Frankel noticed a pattern in the behavior that led to states of disillusionment and created a therapy known as Logotherapy to combat a stagnant life.

Man's Search for Meaning Summary Journal Entry:

This is my book summary of Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. My notes are a reflection of the journal write up above. Written informally, the notes contain a mesh of quotes and my own thoughts on the book. The Journal write up also includes important messages and crucial passages from the book.

  • Logotherapy: Founded on the belief that a human’s life purpose is a purpose in and of its self. The therapy is the pursuit of that life meaning—whatever it may be.
  • The categorical imperative of Logotherapy: “Live as if you were living already for the second time as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”
  • SEEK MEANING: Mans main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain. Be ready for suffering, just be sure to assign meaning to it.
  • Frankl attempted to create a scientific distance from himself to unbiasedly observe the psychological behaviors of the prisoners. He found that over time only men whose inner spirit deteriorated fell victim to the disillusionment that came with daily life in the concentration camp. Why? Frankl believed it had to do with retrospective thinking. If a man had nothing to look forward to because life was essentially over, he would ruminate on the past, so much so, that it would lead to his downfall due to relative deprivation. For anything that a man was before he entered the concentration camp was better than the current life circumstances.
  • When we are no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves.
  • Man can pressure a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.
  • He who has a WHY to live for can bear almost any HOW. - Friedrich Nietzsche
  • In the same way fear brings to pass what one is afraid of, likewise, a forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes. This is the idea of paradoxical intentions. Frankl believed that forcing an aversion via affirmation one way or another could actually set a man free from it. Likewise, that meant that dreading a certain outcome would only increase its inevitability.
  • Be worthy of your suffering… Our last inner freedom cannot be lost. Beware of suffering for it is an achievement.
  • The meaning of life always changes.
  • We need humor. If you cannot develop a sense of humor, life can become a somber experience.
  • We can discover meaning in 3 different ways:
  1. By creating a work or doing a deed; achievement or accomplishment
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone: love, or goodness, truth, and beauty
  3. By the Attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering; suffering will cease to be so when we find meaning
  • LOVE is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.
  • Stop asking what is life? Life questions you:

“The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day, from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be to the question posed to a chess champion: "Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?" There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one's opponent. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

  • Frankl loses the lot. Everything is taken, nothing is left. Yet he is able to live. Empathically this real-life story taught me gratitude for my own life. It marks yet another reason materialism is now trivial to me. These men lived with nothing when the terror crept in. Stuff is only a placeholder, and filling my life with it before was only a way to distract myself from my own mortality, uncertainty, and impermanence. When death finally seems certain, I need not hold on to anything in this world. Having finished reading this book, I had even less of a reason to hold sustained value to the perks of mass consumerism that I was blinded by for so long.  Thank you to Frankl for enduring. People like me are able to learn a valuable lesson about the meaning of life.
  • Here is an inspiring lecture from Frankl after his experience talking about the human's search for meaning. The ideal man, and his search for meaning.

Reading Recommendations

If you liked what you saw. Here are 3 titles that I recommend based on what discussed in Man's Search for Meaning

1. The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy by Viktor Frankl

2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

3. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

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