What is the meaning of life? That is a question that bewilders everyone for sure. What is it that makes life worth living? As human beings living in a vast and endless universe (or multiverse for that matter), what are we actually living for? I have spent endless days wondering on what I am meant to do.
That is when, I found this book- Man’s Search for Meaning written by Viktor Frankl, a neurologist who sadly endured the inimical holocaust. My parents are huge fans of this book and the author, so they recommended it to me.
When one has experienced the adversity of humanity, the shattered hopes of existence start to conjoin in the aftermath. Viktor Frankl has done just that by chronicling about a new therapy developed by him called Logotherapy which is basically based on the belief that search for meaning even amidst misery can become potential solution to human suffering, after recounting his times at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
The First Half
Experiences in a Concentration Camp:
The first part of the book deals with the conditions at the concentration camp. The extreme desire for food, stringent hard work the prisoners were put to do in the frigid winters, constant nightmares about a dystopian world, consumed everyone, including him. Ghastly outbreaks of typhus and rats roamed through those lifeless walls brought treacherous fear, one couldn’t escape from.
At the time of his arrest, Frankl was a well-regarded psychologist. He had already begun developing his theory of Logotherapy. Frankl carried his manuscript outlining his theory, titled The Doctor and the Soul, with him to Auschwitz. by slipping it into his overcoat. But at Poland, everything was confiscated.
In spite of the loss of his family, his professional manuscript, and his dignity, Frankl pressed on to “live” as fully as every moment in life holds value.
Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil?Viktor Frankl
This quote definitely made me think a lot. He elucidates on it by talking about how there were a few people, prisoners yet ruthless among fellow. There were few guards who even helped Frankl by sneaking in extra bread or going easy. Though how dire situations might be, you only can add your own touch and make the situation better.
Resilience is something unconsciously, every human strives toward. The people tried to scrape out every bit of happiness that could be mustered upon. He remembers the ‘stages’ built by hand where everyone would entertain each other when the wardens were away. He also took part in intellectual discussions with other doctors and scientists who were imprisoned. All these factors contributed to his research on logotherapy abundantly.
Death was so near to the people yet they tried their level best to stay farther away from it.
Here is one scene in the book that I thought it to be thought provoking. In the early days, a decision was to be made on whether the acquired prisoners were to be put to death in Gas Chambers or be given hard labor. As Frankl writes this, one can imagine the sheer helplessness of the situation. Throughout it all, though, Frankl remained composed. He chose to keep a composed demeanor—his response to his circumstances being the only thing within his power to control.
When it was Frankl’s turn at the front of the line, he did everything he could do to look strong and resilient. It worked, and he was sent to work. He chose his attitude and didn’t become helpless. Sometimes when hard situations arise, sadly we start getting anxious and it leads to a disheartening result. But if you train yourself to fake it till you make it, things will become better. As he puts it:
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.Viktor Frankl
Everything comes to an end, so did the holocaust. Shortly after his camp had been liberated, Frankl tells the story of walking through the campgrounds just days after his liberation. The countryside around the camp he was imprisoned at was free and open—a kind of sight that once seemed hopeless to him. In this state of gratitude, Frankl broke down and fell to his knees. He would recite over and over again the following line:
I called to the lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space.Viktor Frankl
He had survived the worst thing that life could throw at him, and in surviving it he set himself free.
The Second Half
Logotherapy in a Nutshell:
The second part deals with how he applied the experiences to formulating the basics of logotherapy and some other psychological moments. This method was developed as he felt the need for therapy which focuses on existentialism, primarily because we suffer greatly when our meaning is entirely unknown to us. Frankl referred to this as existential frustration—a kind of anxiety that causes us great mental anguish. He talks about this by reiterating how often he saw those who lived without meaning struggle to survive.
Frankl says throughout his book that one finds meaning in life by finding meaning in specific situations rather than looking for it more generally. If you are studying for a test or making art, do it whole heartedly. The meaning of life isn’t a dactylic prose that suddenly makes dull situations, cheerful. It’s those little things we fail to acknowledge that give purpose to this journey. In sum, meaning is everywhere, all the time. Just look for it 😉
One encounter between a lady and Frankl is written.
The lady asks Frankl, “Why do you still write in German, when it is Adolf Hitler’s language.”
Frankl asked the lady if she has knives in the kitchen. The lady nodded. And he replied:
“Why do you use knives if thousands were murdered by killers who carried them.”
This change of perspective is what everyone needs to incorporate 😊
Frankl ends his book by saying that “Man is that being who invented the gas chambers at Auschwitz and planned the Hiroshima Nagasaki Attack; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright and suffered through the bombing.” He concludes with the belief that while man is certainly capable of doing evil, no individual human must be evil. Every human has the capacity to change his behavior and attitude in every possible situation.
I would recommend this book for anyone to read! My whole perspective towards life magically altered and it has changed me truly. And it is also of historical significance, if you like reading reading books that belong to this period like Diary of a Young Girl and The Book Thief. Though there are a few parts that may seem harsh, the meaning unearthed is just profound.
Even today, you can relate the situations in the book to life and there are so many testimonials on how it helped people spring back up.
Well, that’s all. I hope you liked this post! I took some time in writing it and it was quite long right? 😅What are your thoughts? Have you read this book? Did you like it? Recommendations for a similar book? Do you have a blog?
Tell me in the comments! 😁
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