This book is about survival.
Viktor Frankl was born into a Jewish family of civil servants in 1905. He was cast into a Nazi concentration camp in WWII. After miraculously surviving he wrote the book “Man’s Search For Meaning” to details his trials, what he suffered and lost, as well as what the experience taught him about life’s meaning.
In the book, Frankl often quotes the words of Nietzsche, an influential German philosopher: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
He describes other prisoners who died less from lack of food or medicine but from a lack of hope, lack of something to live for.
For example, he believes the death rates at the concentration camp, which between Christmas and New Years of 1944 increased beyond all previous experience, was caused not by harder working conditions, deterioration of food supplies or change of weather, but simply that the majority of prisoners had lived in the naive hope they would be home again by Christmas.
This observation alludes to the Stockdale paradox, (one of my favorite frameworks of all time) which cautions against the harms of denying the reality of your circumstance.
The book fulfills its title in that it does give an explanation for the meaning of life.
The meaning of life is always changing. Asking me what the meaning of life is like asking a chess player “What’s the best move?” it’s contextual.
Although I don’t agree with the idea of a fluid meaning to life, I do appreciate the acknowledgment of the importance of having a strong why.
Frankl asserts that the greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his life from either a) work: doing something significant b) love: caring for others c) courage: being strong in difficult times.
Frankl strongly believes that searching for meaning and value in life is not a defense mechanism to ward of the possibility that life doesn’t have a greater meaning.
“Nothing to so effectively help one survive even the worst conditions than the knowledge that there is meaning in ones life.”Viktor Frankl
There’s a great part in the book where he draws a distinction between his perspective and those around him.
His comrade asked, “Will we survive the camp? For if not, all this suffering has no meaning.”
Frankl asks, “Has all this suffering and dying around us have meaning? If not then ultimately there is no meaning to survival. For a life whose meaning depends on such happenstance, whether he escapes or not, would not be worth living.”
Have you identified your why? It will be of great help to push through trying circumstances.