Why You should read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
You won’t feel good reading this book. And that’s the point.
The book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl is one of the kind that will disturb you. Truly, you are not going to feel happy reading this book. You cannot imagine the amounts of feeling that are going to explode inside you because of this story.
This book is about what the author experience in the concentration camps, during World War 2. Just from this, you know it’s not going to be funny. But not all books have to be. This book is the experience of a concentration point, from the perspective of a psychiatrist, from the inside.
The author experienced unbelievable amount of pain and suffering. But, because of his mindset, he tried to reflect on that. He tried to find meaning in what was happening.
The Purpose of Suffering
In his case he didn’t have enough food to eat. He had to work in the cold for people who were ready to send him to the furnaces if he didn’t behave exactly as they want. He had no idea if his family was alive (sadly, it wasn’t). So you can imagine that in these conditions, finding meaning in your life is pretty hard. But nonetheless, he hits us with a quote full of wisdom :
To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.
Think about it for a second.
Suffering is part of the human experience. There is no way around it. Of course (and thankfully) we don’t all have to go through the same experience. But nevertheless we are going to experience suffering. And when we do there will always be this question haunting us. Why am I going through this ?
And for Viktor, the only way to answer this question was to think about the future. According to him, the way a prisoner imagined the future affected his longevity. Once a prisoner gave up on their future, their actions in the present started to immediately drag them into the futureless reality they imagined.
There were many reasons to give up on life in the camp. You saw so many people dying, it’s impossible to imagine that you will be one of the “lucky” ones that do survive. All you actions seems meaningless when you have so little power over the world and your surroundings
Every morning you could expect to be one of those that don’t go to sleep in the evening.
But even with all this suffering, the human mind can find a way to work through it.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing : the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
The Resilience of the Human mind
Yes, a man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how.
As horrible as it sounds, the human mind can get used to anything. We are very good at changing our reference level of happiness. Sometimes it makes us be constantly unhappy by always wanting more. But sometimes it helps us see the beautiful in the hardships of life.
For example, when a guard showed a bit of compassion, it was perceived as a god like behavior. But when a prisoner was egoist with his companions, it was perceived as the worst thing a human could do. It’s about where your reference point his. And according to the author, we have to choose this reference point internally. But we have to be compassionate about our judgment. We don’t know what others are going through.
Our default reaction must be love. Not hate nor anger. Love first.
Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.
We can always choose how we react to what happens to us.
And let’s be honest, our lives are easier than what these people experienced in their times. And I think it’s the greatest strength of this book.
People managed to survive these type of hardship and still remained good human beings. With hopes, dreams and a future. And some somehow still believed in love and humanity. Just imagine that.
We are not in a position to complain. And if they managed to still show love and behave their best, we have no excuses to not do the same.