Release year: 1959

Author: Viktor E. Frankl

Link to my handwritten notes

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This book is an absolute classic in the world of contemporary psychology. Written in 1959 and only 163 pages long in its 2006 edition, it packs a punch that is as relevant today as it was on the first day of its publication, I’m sure.

This book is split in two parts. In the first part, the author first recounts the three years he spent across four concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The conditions he describes there are absolutely horrific. Some of the details he shares absolutely got under my skin, no matter how desensitized I thought our modern day Internet had made me:

  • How 90% of the people getting of the train at a concentration camp were immediately sent to gas chambers, based on the whim of a single German soldier.
  • How the head of an inmate made a “rattling noise” against the stairs as his corpse was unceremoniously dragged by its feet outside the hut.
  • How a very strict camp ruling that forbade any efforts to save a man who attempted suicide.
  • etc.

Without exaggeration, the scenes described by the author are more than inhuman, they are unimaginable. Repeatedly, I would pause my lecture and wonder, who would ever want to hurt another human that bad, and for what?

In the second part of the book, the author goes more in detail about the inner workings of logotherapy, which is therapy aimed at finding meaning in the patient’s life. Indeed, logos is a Greek word which denotes “meaning.” He recalls both from his very personal experience in concentration camps and his experience with patients that having a meaning to live for makes all the difference in the hourly, daily problems that life throws at us. Meaning is something we can anchor ourselves to. For example, it can be in work, in love, or in courage in the face of a challenging situation. If we know that someone we love awaits our return, or that we have an unfinished work we wish to return to, we are much more likely to find the motivation within ourselves to survive our ordeals. We can turn a tragedy into a triumph.

It seems to me that now more than ever our society seems to prioritize comfort over meaning, and I believe this to be the source of much of our neuroses. This perspective relates to other books I enjoyed, e.g. The Mountain is You , Start With Why , Drive , The Art of Happiness , Four Thousand Weeks , The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck , and maybe even En as-tu vraiment besoin? . It seems that Frankl is tapping into an eternal problem of humanity with logotherapy. Every new human on earth has to realize on their quest to meaning that life brings no answers, and that the meaning that will allow them work through their suffering lies within themself.

To summarize, as Nietzsche put it, “He who has a why to live for can bear for can bear with almost any how.” By never losing sight of why what we do matters, we always have something to live for, and by extension a reason to fight for survival. It opens us to new ways of living, it opens us to learning, which is ultimately what allows us to overcome our problems.

I remember a time when my life had no meaning, only three years ago. I was lost and I kept self-sabotaging my opportunities. Reading books, learning from others and sharing wisdom has been my most life-changing experience yet and completely redefined who I thought I was. It gave me meaning! Thus, I can only agree with Frankl’s view that one’s found meaning seems to be the cure to the majority of mental ailments. Finding my meaning felt like getting my soul back. I hope I’ll get the opportunity to help someone find their meaning someday. That could change the world as we know it, who knows!

Félix rating:

⭐ Star Quotes

  1. (p. x) Three possible sources of meaning:
    • in work (doing something significant)
    • in love (caring for another person)
    • in courage during difficult times, which may turn a tragedy into a triumph
  2. (p. x) You can’t control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
  3. (p. 66) ⭐ Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.
  4. (p. 67) The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails gives him ample opportunity to add a deeper meaning to his life.
  5. (p. 72) Often it is an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.
  6. (p. 72) ⭐ Life is like going at the dentist. You always think that the worst is still to come, and yet it is over already.
  7. (p. 73) “I succeeded in rising above the sufferings of the moment. I observed them as if they were already in the past.”
  8. (p. 74) Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.
  9. (p. 76) ⭐ He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.
  10. (p. 77) It does not really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects of us.
  11. (p. 77) We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who are being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talks and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct.
  12. (p. 77) Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
  13. (p. 78) There is no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bear witness that a man has the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.
  14. (p. 80) A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.
  15. (p. 82) ⭐ That which does not kill me makes me stronger.
  16. (p. 82) What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.
  17. (p. 83) Human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death.
  18. (p. 102) A man’s concern, even his despair over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease.
  19. (p. 103, 104) There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is meaning in one’s life.
  20. (p. 106) ⭐ Mankind is doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom.
  21. (p. 107) The frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated for by a will to power, a will to money, and the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration often eventuates in sexual compensation. Sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacuum.
  22. (p. 108) The meaning of life differs from person to person, from day to day, and from hour to hour. What matters is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.
  23. (p. 109) Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.
  24. (p. 110) The true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche.
  25. (p. 110) 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.
  26. (p. 110) ⭐ Self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.
  27. (p. 112) When we are no longer able to change a situation (e.g. incurable disease), we are challenged to change ourselves.
  28. (p. 113) Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.
  29. (p. 113) In no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. Meaning is possible even in spite of suffering – provided that the suffering is unavoidable. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.
  30. (p. 119) Procreation is not the only meaning of life, for then life in itself would become meaningless, and something which in itself is meaningless cannot be rendered meaningful merely by its perpetuation.
  31. (p. 122) “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”
  32. (p. 122) Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself.
  33. (p. 125) The neurotic who learns to laugh at himself may be on the way to self-management, perhaps to cure.
  34. (p. 132) ⭐ Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.
  35. (p. 159) “I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”
  36. (p. 139) 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.
  37. (p. 160) One’s approach to everything from life-threatening challenges to everyday situations helps to shape the meaning of our lives.
  38. (p. 162) ⭐ “I do not forget any good deed dome to me, and I do not carry a grudge for a bad one.”