“Man’s Search For Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl


“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

“Man’s Search For Meaning” is one the best book I have read about searching for meaning in life. In the preface of the edition I read is said that this books is one of the best of our era and honestly I have no doubt that the book will be read centuries from now.

The book was first published after Word War II and has been re-edited countless times in many languages – so far it has sold more than 12 millions copies.

Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997) was a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Vienna until his death in 1997. He founded the third Viennese School of Psychotherapy who is an internationally acknowledged and empirically based meaning-centered approach to psychotherapy, based in the concept of logotherapy. The other two schools were founded by Sigmund Freud (with main focus on pleasure) and Alfred Adler (with main focus around power).

A fundamental difference between logotherapy and the other two schools of psychotherapy is the focus. Logotherapy focuses in the future and in the conscious decisions and actions of people. The other two schools focuses more in an analysis of the past and the unconscious desires and instincts of individuals.

In a way, logoteherapy can be considered a psychotherapy of action. Why? Because it stresses a lot the use of the “muscles” needed for the daily decisions in our life in general, and for finding meaning, in particular.

According to the author, we are always in charge of our lives. The author thinks that even in extreme situations we are, at least, responsible for the way we react to whatever happens in our lives. This book is largely based on his experience as a prisoner for three years during Word War II in concentration camps like Dachau and Auschwitz. The great majority of the other inmates he met in concentration camps didn’t survive.

The book is the product of a very rare combination of scientific competence and the search for meaning in life in very harsh conditions. Doctor Frankl really knows what is talking about without no shadow of doubt due to his personal experiences.

From my point of view, essentially, the message of the author can be reduced to 2 points.

First, the search for meaning is the primary driving force in humans. Second, each one of us has to find a specific meaning for his life that can (and perhaps should) vary with time.
Fundamentally, the book is divided in sections. The first (more than half of the book) is about the experience of the author as an inmate for three years in concentration camps of the World War II. Personally, I found it depressing. The conditions were unbelievable and the description of the behavior of most guards and even some of his fellow inmates is quite appalling. I had the temptation to skip the first part and go directly to the second. I advice the reader not to that for two reasons. One, is that by reading it you will understand its message on how it is possible to find meaning in the most horrible conditions. According, to Viktor E. Frank the prisoners that survived were the ones that had some mission to do after the concentration camps. The author’s purpose, for example, was to finish some books he had left unfinished and to continue his work in the field of psychotherapy. Secondly, the reader takes more from the rest of the book if he doesn’t skip the first part.

The author’s point of view of his experience in concentration camps is very interesting and perhaps unique. On one hand, he provides the reader with valuable psychological insight of the events he experienced, by discussing the motivations and its effects in guards and inmates. On the other hand, his view his always kind without trying to conceal the very ugly truth.

The second part of the book is dedicated to his school of psychotherapy (logotherapy – therapy of logos which signifies meaning in Greek). I believe most of the readers will find the second part both interesting and providing very valuable advice for their daily lives.

According to the author we can find meaning for our lives in three different ways:

  • Creating something or doing an achievement;
  • Living an experience (like nature, culture, goodness, truth and beauty) or finding someone to love;
  • Through the attitude we assume in relation to an inevitable suffering.
    The “problem” (which isn’t a problem from the point of view of Viktor E. Frankl) is that one “size” doesn’t fit all. Different people find meaning in various things and ways. Finding meaning is a continuous process that has to be confronted with reality. By another words, the ideas we have in our heads about where to find meaning need to be tested.
  • Dear reader, I certainly advise you to buy and read this short book even you a lot of meaning in your life as the book has the potential to enrich your perspective. If you feel that you don’t have enough meaning in your life, I strongly advice you to buy it.