Man’s Search For Meaning: Summary Review

Key Things You Should Know About The Book

This is a summary review of Man’s Search For Meaning containing key details about the book.

What is Man’s Search For Meaning About?

Man’s Search for Meaning is a book by Viktor Frankl chronicling his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and describing his psychotherapeutic method, which involved identifying a purpose in life to feel positive about, and then immersively imagining that outcome.

According to Frankl, the way a prisoner imagined the future affected his longevity. The book intends to answer the question “How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” Part One constitutes Frankl’s analysis of his experiences in the concentration camps, while Part Two introduces his ideas of meaning and his theory called logotherapy.

Who is the Author of Man’s Search For Meaning?

Viktor Emil Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, writer, and Holocaust survivor. He was the founder of logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy that describes a search for a life’s meaning as the central human motivational force.

How long is Man’s Search For Meaning?

  • Print length: 165 pages
  • Audiobook: 4 hrs and 44 mins

What genre is Man’s Search For Meaning?

Nonfiction, Psychology, Philosophy

What are good quotes from Man’s Search For Meaning?

“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. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”

“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. 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.”

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

“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 own way.”

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. “

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

“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. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must 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.”

“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

“So 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!”

“No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.”

“..Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire… The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

“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. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.”

“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”

“A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself.”

“Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of the their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”

“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

What are the main summary points of Man’s Search For Meaning?

Here are some key summary points from the book:

  • We, as human beings, can survive extreme atrocities by clinging on to a sense of meaning, never giving up on hope. (Frankl shares that after the prisoners were released, many of the survivors had feelings of disbelief, followed by bitterness. Additionally, the survivors were not met with the compassion they’d expected, as people could not comprehend the horrific experience.)
  • Focusing on our ‘inner’ life (such as thinking about loved ones, noticing beauty, or finding humor) can bring a sense of fulfillment even during the worst of atrocities. (Frankl noticed that the prisoners who were most likely to survive had a rich inner life and that they could find meaning in their suffering.)
  • Freedom to make choices is something most of us take for granted. When we make choices—even the smallest ones—it gives us a sense of empowerment. (Having the tiny bit of autonomy gave prisoners the ability to live with their own values, for example, giving up their bread so that someone else could eat.)
  • We always have the freedom to choose how we approach something. How we act and the responsibility we feel towards our choices determine our meaning in life. There is no all-encompassing meaning of life.
  • Our motivation stems from our life’s meaning. Frankl’s theory of psychotherapy known as logotherapy asserts that the search for meaning is the greatest motivation in our lives. (Frankl recognized that prisoners who could maintain meaning were stronger and more resilient than those who could not. Those who feel life has no meaning are left with an emptiness or existential vacuum.)
  • We are called to figure out our life’s purpose depending on what emerges in our life and our own choices. Each person may find personal meaning in different places, times, and circumstances. It could be their positive contribution at work, as a volunteer, or in any situation where they influence others.
  • We are in control of our fears. We are able to make decisions regardless of our environment.
  • When we fear something will happen, it often does. Yet, when we try and force something to happen, it rarely does. Therefore, do the thing you’re afraid of (for example, getting tongue-tied when making a speech) to be released from it.

What are key takeaways from Man’s Search For Meaning?

Takeaway #1 Understanding Your Why

Forget the meaning of life as a whole, you just need to work out the meaning of your life. “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” – This is the undertone of the entire book written by Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl. He claims that he survived the holocaust because he know his why; he wanted to finish his manuscript that had been destroyed when he entered the camp but he also found salvation in the love that he had for his wife, despite not knowing if she was alive. Others in the camp had not identified their ‘why’ and with thoughts of “I have nothing to expect from life anymore”, could not endure the atrocities and did not survive.

Takeaway #2 Learn From Your Mistakes, Don’t Dwell On Them

Frankl tells you to focus on where you want to go in life and not where you’ve been. This helps avoid riding the wave of epic highs felt during success and the epic lows felt after a failure. Using a method he termed Logotherapy (Frank’s own take on psychotherapy) he teaches people to focus on how they want to be fulfilled in their life in the future and not on analyzing past regrets as hashing over the past does no good.

Takeaway #3 Face Your Fears To Overcome Them

Frankl discovered that overindulging in fears can help you to overcome them so it’s true what they say about facing fears, in this case, the more you do it, the easier it becomes! The technique called “paradoxical intention” is based on the twofold approach that fear brings about that which one is afraid of, and that hyper-intention makes impossible what one wishes. In practice, this means that if you have a fear of the dentist, by placing yourself in the dentist’s office (without even having work done) you can grow accustomed to the sounds and smells and gradually overcome your fear.

Takeaway #4 Your Attitude Is Up To You.

Don’t blame your bad mood on others, your attitude is entirely up to you so turn that frown upside down! You get to choose how you react to others, your circumstances, your emotions, and your thoughts – Sure, something can upset you and trigger you but you don’t have to lash out or be upset by it. Frankl came to realize in the concentration camps that despite lack of sleep, insufficient food, and all of the mental and physical stresses inflicted on them, the type of person the prisoner became was down to an inner-decision to decide what would become of him and not purely the result of outer influences.

* Key sources: Amazon, Wikipedia

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Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating society to its abundance potential.