Book Notes: Man’s Search For Meaning

I set a goal to read 24 books this year. This was the third book I read in 2019. Here are my notes from Man’s Search For Meaning:


Historical Overview

The author, Viktor Frankl, lived from 1905 to 1997. When he was three years old he decided to become a physician. He was an intelligent psychiatrist and even worked with Sigmund Freud.

Victor could have left Vienna and traveled to the United States; however, he let his visa lapse in order to take care of his aging parents. Several months later, in September of 1942, he and his family were arrested and deported by the Nazis.

Victor spent the next three years at four different concentration camps- Theresienstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenaur, Kaufering, and Turkheim.

The first portion of the book gives an incredibly detailed account of what life was like in these horrible concentration camps. They were treated worse than animals and suffered greatly.

I strongly recommend that people read this book as it will truly show you the worst of humanity. It will also show you what people are capable of.

Viktor talks about the work camps, how he got on the Capos good side,

This portion of the book put my life into perspective. My problems seemed much smaller and I became more grateful for the life I live.

The first portion of the book really sets the stage for the purpose of the book, which is: the quest for meaning is the key to mental health and human flourishing. 


Love is the Key

On page 37 he talks about thinking of his wife. This page hit home pretty hard for me. This helped him realize this truth:

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

The salvation of man is through love and in love. 

Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in the spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.

He didn’t even know if his wife was alive but imagined himself talking to her, seeing her smile, looking into her eyes.

They talked of politics and science. Religious talk came up at times. He was able to find “art” even in he camp.

Humor was incredibly important to free the mind from the suffering circumstances. 

This book continues to make me think of how fortunate I am. They were treated like animals. 


Lucky To Survive

The author almost dies multiple times. 

One time they were thinking of running away and when they were about to run away, people from Geneva showed up and brought food, medicine, cigarettes, etc.

Everyone thought they were about to be freed. They loaded everyone up and were much nicer to them. The author and one other were not able to get into the truck load and were told they would have to wait.

He was frustrated. However, that night the battle front reached their camp and they were freed. Those that were on the truck were not freed. They were actually taken to huts, locked inside, and burned to death.


Your Attitude is Your Choice

“Man can preserve a vestige or spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.”

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way. 

You can decide your attitude. Those that keep their inner freedom will do better in horrible circumstances. 


Suffering and Death

Suffering and death are part of the human experience. Face your suffering and death in a dignified way. 

One of the most difficult things psychologically for the prisoners there is that they did not know when or if they would ever be freed. 


You Must Be Forward Focused

“Man can only live by looking into the future.”

This is so powerful and so true. I had to think this way to survive my divorce. I was so focused on the past that it was preventing me from enjoying my present and future.

The prisoner that lost faith in his future was doomed. You could see it in their faces when someone gave up on their future. They could be beaten and starved. Nothing would change them. They were the living dead.


You Must Have A Strong Why

He who has a why to live for can deal with almost any how. 

If you don’t feel like your life has meaning, know that life has meaning for you. 

Your situation is unique to you. No one else ever will be in the same exact situation and circumstances as you. Suffer with dignity. Understand your suffering to get through it. 


There Are Only Two Races

There are only two human races. Decent men and indecent men. They are found in every group of people. 

Spoke of how the guards could do such a thing. Some guards were actually kind and some were horrible people. The horrible ones were put in positions to break the people. 


Post Liberation

Spoke of liberation. The freed prisoners had to learn how to be happy again. They’d lost the ability to quickly feel joy. 

You would think that the prisoners would instantly be happy after being freed; however, some grew bitter. They thought they’d come home to a parade of people that were happy for them.

In reality, some came home to people that showed little empathy “we didn’t know that was happening” or “we suffered too”.

They questioned why they suffered so much and went back to a world that wasn’t like they pictured it. Some realized the family they were longing to see had been killed in the war. 

The joy did come from knowing there was nothing to fear but God. 


Logotherapy 101

Logotherapy is used to determine one’s meaning. 

Logo is Greek for “meaning”

Any man can handle any how if they have a strong enough why. 

What man needs is the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. 

The existential vacuum is when you don’t know what to do. You don’t have a meaning. It expresses itself in a state of boredom. 

“Each person must decide for themself what the meaning of their life is.” 

The more one forgets himself by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. 


The 3 Things That Give Life Meaning

We can discover the meaning of life in three ways: 

  1. By creating a work or doing a deed 
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone 
  3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. 

He discusses logodrama where you picture yourself being 80 and on your deathbed. Would your life have meaning? What’s its meaning? (Similar to Stephen Coveys “Begin with the end in mind” approach) 


You Determine Your Own Fate

Man decides his own fate. It’s fair to look at statistics to determine what a group will do; however, the individual should not be treated this way as the individual is free to choose for himself. 

Man has potential to be both a swine or a saint. 


Paradoxical Intention

“Paradoxical intention” is mentioned several times. It relates to people who fear certain things actually make those things larger in existence.

Those that fear sweating make themselves sweat more. Those that fear not sleeping will not sleep. You have to think the opposite: I don’t want to sleep! I want to stay up all night. Then you will fall asleep. 


Meaning = Happiness

The case for tragic optimism. One is and remains optimistic in spite of the “tragic triad”: pain, guilt, and death.

Life is meaningful under any circumstances 

Happiness can not be forced. One must have a reason to be happy. Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. Man is not in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to be happy. 

Just as you can’t force people to laugh, you have to give them a reason to laugh. Happiness is the same. 

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. 

29% of people say that meaning is missing from their lives. Wow. 

Alcoholics and drug addicts report a high level of feeling meaningless. Without a meaning, people fill that vacuum with addiction and depression. 

Meaning can be found not only in work but also in love. 

How can I help others find their meaning? How can I help my kids find their meanings? 

Don’t pity old people. Instead of having possibilities in the future they have realities in the past. No one can take that from them. 

“It is we ourselves who must answer the questions that life asks of us, and to those questions we can respond only by being responsible for our existence.”

Pay attention to the gap between what you are and what you should become. 


I finished this book on my 33rd birthday.

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