Derek Sivers

Man's Search for Meaning - by Viktor Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning - by Viktor Frankl

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Powerful, deep, etc. First half describes life inside Auschwitz. Second half has powerful succinctly-said insights into the universal struggle. There's a reason this book has sold a billion copies.

my notes

He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.

Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure or a quest for power, but a quest for meaning.

The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.

Three possible sources for meaning:
- in work (doing something significant)
- in love (caring for another person)
- in courage during difficult times

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.

Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.

A man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.

Every hour offered the opportunity to make a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance.

It's tempting to look into the past to help make the present less real. But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist.

I became disgusted with the state of affairs which compelled me, daily and hourly, to think of only such trivial things. I forced my thoughts to turn to another subject. Suddenly I saw myself standing on the platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! All that oppressed me at that moment became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past. Both I and my troubles became the object of an interesting psychoscientific study undertaken by myself.

Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.

Tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.

Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand.

It doesn't matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.

What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.

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

I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my “defense mechanisms,” nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my “reaction formations.” Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!

A high-ranking American diplomat was in psychoanalytic treatment which he had begun five years previously with an analyst in New York. At the outset I asked him why he thought he should be analyzed, why his analysis had been started in the first place. It turned out that the patient was discontented with his career and found it most difficult to comply with American foreign policy. His analyst, however, had told him again and again that he should try to reconcile himself with his father; because the government of the U.S. as well as his superiors were “nothing but” father images and, consequently, his dissatisfaction with his job was due to the hatred he unconsciously harbored toward his father. Through an analysis lasting five years, the patient had been prompted more and more to accept his analyst’s interpretations until he finally was unable to see the forest of reality for the trees of symbols and images. After a few interviews, it was clear that his will to meaning was frustrated by his vocation, and he actually longed to be engaged in some other kind of work. As there was no reason for not giving up his profession and embarking on a different one, he did so, with most gratifying results. He has remained contented in this new occupation for over five years, as he recently reported. I doubt that, in this case, I was dealing with a neurotic condition at all, and that is why I thought that he did not need any psychotherapy, nor even logotherapy, for the simple reason that he was not actually a patient. Not every conflict is necessarily neurotic; some amount of conflict is normal and healthy.

Logotherapy deviates from psychoanalysis insofar as it considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts.

Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being. We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill.

The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and 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 comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?”

Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.

Imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended.

Self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.

No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.

A forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes.

One is commanded and ordered to “be happy.” But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to “be happy.” If you want anyone to laugh you have to provide him with a reason, e.g., you have to tell him a joke. In no way is it possible to evoke real laughter by urging him, or having him urge himself, to laugh.