Posted by Indrani Gupta on 21 July, 2021

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Book on my Bedside

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”

In these trying times when many of us are losing hope as we try to cope with loss and pain, this book from Austrian psychologist Viktor E. Frankl gains even more relevance. It is one of the most moving personal accounts of the holocaust. Narrated in two parts, the book explores his observation in the Nazi concentration camps, followed by an explanation of his own theory of psychology, 'Logotherapy'. 

Throughout his imprisonment, Frankl kept himself sane by believing that a human being should never give up hope, and thought constantly of his happy memories of his life and convinced himself that to give up hope and give in to despair would be a living death. He also helped to keep hundreds of inmates sane by encouraging them not to give up hope. 

Having suffered the unimaginable horrors of the concentration camp, Frankl still emerged an optimist. He strongly believed that even in the worst situations, a human beings still have the freedom to choose how they handle their circumstances and derive meaning from them. He believed this meaning is found by realizing the intrinsic dignity that he and others possessed - just by being human.

Frankl says that while we cannot avoid suffering, we can always choose how to deal with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. By choosing to exercise his ability to control his reactions and the way he treated others, he discovered the ultimate meaning of freedom. The freedom to control our attitude toward the situations we inherit. This kind of freedom enabled him to defy his oppressors -  they simply could not convince him that any human life was worthless. 

Frankl was once asked to express in one sentence the meaning of his own life. He wrote the response on paper and asked his students to guess what he had written. After some moments of quiet reflection, a student surprised Frankl by saying, ‘The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs.’ ‘That was it, exactly,’ Frankl said. ‘Those are the very words I had written.'”  — William J. Winslade (Afterword)