As well as providing a vivid account of his experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, Viktor Frankl’s Mans Search For Meaning gives insight on how to find meaning in a harsh and unforgiving world. In Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl explains how we can choose to cope with suffering, find meaning in it, and learn to accept the responsibility that comes with it. He uses his own experience with suffering as an example of how, even in the most harrowing and cruel situations, one can find meaning.
He also notes that we can find meaning in love for others and the work we do. He describes how, in order to keep himself alive, he imagined his wife talking to him. “I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.” This book reminds us that “Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.” If you live only for money or power or some other earthly pleasure, it is inevitable that you will end up unhappy. Frankl explains that “People have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but not the meaning.” Instead, he urges us to live a life of love for others. As Nietzsche once observed, “He who has a Why can live to bear almost any How.” In his case, Frankl’s “Why” was his profound love for his wife, his need to finish his book about logotherapy, and his dream of talking about the suffering he endured in the concentration camps. Nietzsche’s quote clearly describes the book’s message; In order to survive in a cruel and merciless world, one must have a reason to live.
Thus, we must all strive to find meaning in our lives. Not only can this be done by loving others, but also by our work and deeds and answering to our specific vocation. For Frankl, it was his book on Logotherapy. This being said, there is no one meaning of life as it is highly specific to the individual. Frankl states, “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 his specific opportunity to implement it.”
Finally, we can find meaning in our suffering and the way we respond to it. Suffering can serve as a chance to answer to life’s cruelties with a sense of purpose and responsibility. Frankl states, “Ultimately man should not ask what the meaning of his 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. Thus logotherapy sees in responsibility the very essence of human existence.” Whether it be through our work, our love for others, or through our response to suffering, we all have the opportunity to find meaning in our lives.
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