Frankl writes that he is often asked how he feels about the success of this book. He responds by saying that the book’s success must reflect a widespread desire to find meaning in life.
Frankl uses the success of his book as evidence for his claim that modern man (or woman, but Frankl uses “man” to mean any person) is undergoing an existential crisis.
Frankl wrote the first section of Man’s Search for Meaning in nine days, and intended for the book to be published anonymously. He says that he was not looking for fame—he simply wanted to demonstrate that life could be meaningful in even the most terrible situation possible. Frankl didn’t intend for the book to be particularly successful, and he often tells his students that they should not strive for success. He writes, “success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” In other words, one may become successful, but success is not a goal in and of itself.
Frankl says throughout his book that one finds meaning in life by finding meaning in specific situations rather than looking for it more generally. He does not recommend striving for success specifically, because success is something that will only truly happen by fulfilling one’s meaning in life. By focusing on making meaning from his experience, Frankl ends up being successful.
Frankl also explains why he did not flee from Austria when he had the chance. After his papers went through, Frankl was deeply conflicted over whether his primary responsibility lay with his parents, who would almost certainly be taken to concentration camps, or with his work and promotion of the theories of logotherapy. If he left Austria, he would be able to write about logotherapy from abroad.
Frankl’s conflict between promoting his work and remaining with his parents represents two methods for finding meaning in life: through work or through love. Logotherapy, Frankl’s theory of psychotherapy, focuses on the existential search for meaning as a source of fulfillment or neurosis.
Frankl could not make up his mind until he happened upon a piece of stone in his parents’ home. His father explained to him that the stone had once been part of a monument to the Ten Commandments, which the Nazis had destroyed. This fragment came from the commandment that says, “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land.” After learning this, Frankl decided to stay in Austria with his parents, giving up the chance to move to America.
Frankl’s decision to stay with his parents is meaningful because he makes the decision out of love (and a sense of heritage). Frankl often relies on signs—this fragment of stone or a sudden vision of his wife’s face—to help him make difficult decisions. These signs might not be objectively meaningful (i.e., omens sent by God or decreed by fate) but as long as they are meaningful to the person interpreting them, they are meaningful.