In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Dr. Viktor Frankl discusses his experience as an inmate in one of Germany’s concentration camps during World War II. His observations of the hostile environment teach a telling lesson on the meaning of life, even after one has nothing left to lose. Frankl’s conclusion is clear; meaning can be found even in the most hopeless of places.
This book is divided into two parts; the first being his account in these camps, and the other part on the psychological implications stemming from Frankl’s experience within these camps, with a discussion on his psychological theory “logotherapy”.
In part one of his book, Frankl details the inhumane living conditions of Auschwitz. He is an imprisoned psychotherapist struggling to survive within the smaller concentration camps where most of the exterminations took place. According to the book, the chance of surviving was one in 28. Inmates were starved to the bone. I wouldn’t be able to come close to imagining what life, if one would even call it that, may have been like for these prisoners clinging on to the last shreds of hope they may have had. It would be easy to give up on life while enduring these circumstances. Frankl describes how the thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone, and what fascinates me was how Frankl along with those he observed were able to find meaning in what seemed to be a purposeless and hopeless life.
The second part of Frankl’s book focuses on the application of his psychological theory “logotherapy”. According to Frankl, logotherapy promotes three methods of discovering meaning: “(1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”
Frankl compares the job of a logotherapist to that of an eye doctor in which his job is to correct and widen a patient’s visual field for the patient to better see the world in front of them. He contrasts this comparison with that of a regular therapist whose role is more of a painter who tries to paint the world their client needs to see. Allowing a patient to see with their own eyes enables them to better choose how to respond to any stimuli, to any struggle that may confront this individual.
Frankl’s experience allowed him to observe what qualities of character allowed someone in these camps to survive, while others gave up on surviving and died before their extermination or chance of freedom. What attitudes should one take toward undeniable suffering?
The suffering itself gives meaning to our lives through how we choose to respond to it. Frankl notes that suffering ceases to exist the moment it finds meaning. We all go through many struggles and give each of these struggles meaning, respectively; there is no one meaning in life. It think this is a book that will translate well through time.
Some may think happiness is what we all aim to aquire, but as Frankl has showed, this is merely a side effect of what we truly long for. It is the meaning of our inevitable suffering that will ultimately satiate us. Anything can be taken from us except the freedom to choose how we respond to a situation. This is what responsibility is–the ability to respond.