Man's Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning - by Viktor E. Frankl #

Date Read: 2018-09-15 #

Notes #

Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.

There is a scene in Arthur Miller’s play Incident at Vichy in which an upper middle class professional man appears before the Nazi authority that has occupied his town and shows his credentials: his university degrees, his letters of reference from prominent citizens, and so on. The Nazi asks him, “Is that everything you have?” The man nods. The Nazi throws it all in the wastebasket and tells him: “Good, now you have nothing”.

We all said to each other in camp that there could be no earthly happiness which could compensate for all we had suffered. We were not hoping for happiness - it was not that which gave us courage and gave meaning to our suffering, our sacrifices and our dying. And yet we were not prepared for unhappiness. (Suffering, happiness, lack of happiness, unhappiness are different emotions, state of being. It doesn’t mean that removing suffering can bring about happiness.)

Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish. (Also, mental health affects physical health)

Sometimes, the frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated for by a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration often eventuates in sexual compensation. We can observe in such cases that the sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacuum.

Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he 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. Thus, logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.

True meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man. We can discover the meaning of life in three different ways: (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 (when facing a fate that cannot be changed, to transform personal tragedy into triumph).

“Has all this suffering, this dying around us, a meaning? For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such a happenstance - as whether one escapes or not - ultimately would not be worth living at all.”

At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence. […] the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest.

“anticipatory anxiety” - fear causes what one is afraid of.

“hyper-intention” - forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes.

“hyper-reflection” - excessive attention on oneself, and not on others, resulting in inability to achieve meaningful relationships, etc.

“paradoxical intention” - intend for a moment precisely what he fears. e.g. excessive sweating caused by meeting someone - challenge yourself to sweat even more.