According to Frankl, the will to meaning is the motivating force in any person’s life—in other words, the need for some kind of meaning in one’s actions and existence is at the core of one’s psychology. The first section of the book is a testament to this belief. Frankl writes from his own horrific experience as a prisoner in four different Nazi concentration camps over the course of three years, and he uses his observations there as evidence for his claims. Frankl explains that many prisoners became apathetic about their lives just a few days after arriving at a concentration camp. They quickly grew accustomed to the cruelty that surrounded them, and they knew their chances of survival were limited, so they essentially gave up. Frankl himself managed to avoid this apathy, however, by constantly looking for ways to make his experience meaningful. He did this by deciding to use his suffering as an opportunity to become a better person. Frankl also reoriented his frame of mind, deciding to think of his time in the camps as an important opportunity to observe how such an environment affected prisoners’ minds. Finally, he found meaning in his life by remembering his love for his wife and committing himself to rewriting the manuscript that the Nazis took from him in Auschwitz.
In the second section of the book, Frankl discusses the problems that can arise when someone’s will to meaning becomes existentially frustrated outside of the concentration camp setting. Frankl’s form of therapy, logotherapy, is designed to help an individual find value in every moment of life, even if he is confident that there is none to be found. Frankl says that there are three ways to find meaning in life: through work, through love, and through suffering. Ultimately, by being responsible to one’s work, love, or suffering, one can improve one’s own life. Frankl does not, however, purport to know the general meaning of life or to have the answer for why humans must suffer. He calls the answers to these questions the super-meaning, but claims that the super-meaning is something that humans cannot possibly understand. Instead of asking what is the overall meaning of life, he declares, we should realize that life asks us to determine our own meaning.
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The Search for Meaning Quotes in Man’s Search for Meaning
Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understand how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.
Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.
I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose.
It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.
If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.
Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual.
At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or of the world—I had but one sentence in mind—always the same: “I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space.”
How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence memory can no longer recall. But I know that on that day, in that hour, my new life started. Step for step I progressed, until I again became a human being.
One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. 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.
Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he should 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.
Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. 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.
It is one of the basic tenants of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.