Man's Search For Meaning –– Victor Frankl

Notes

  • Life is not a primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The great task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage in difficult times.
  • "He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How."
  • You cannot control what happens to you. but you can always control what you feel and do about what happens to you.
  • But does a man who makes his observations while he himself is a prisoner possess necessary detachment? Such detachment is granted to the outsider, but he is too far removed to make any statements of any real value. Only the inside man knows.
  • In psychiatry, there's a certain condition known as "delusion of reprieve." The condemned man, immediately before his execution gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute. We, too, clung to shreds of hope and believed to the last moment that it would not be so bad.
  • Apart from that strange kind of humour, another sensation seized us: curiosity. I have experienced this kind of curiosity before, as a fundamental reaction towards certain strange circumstances.
  • The thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone, if only for a brief time. It was born of hopelessness of the situation, the constant danger of death looming over us daily and hourly, and the closeness of the deaths suffered by many others.
  • At such a moment, it is not the physical pain that hurts the most, it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all.
  • A man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.
  • Suffering alone is meaningless, we choose to give meaning to our suffering. 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.
  • Every hour offered the opportunity to make a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance.
  • It's tempting to look into the past to help make the present less real. But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist.
  • I saw myself giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! All that oppressed me at that moment became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past. Both I and my troubles became the object of an interesting psycho-scientific study undertaken by myself.
  • Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.
  • Tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage suffer.
  • Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem proposed at hand.
  • It doesn't matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.
  • What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.
  • No one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.
  • I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my "defense mechanisms," nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my "reaction formations." Man however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!
  • Logo-therapy deviates from psychoanalysis insofar as it considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts.
  • 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, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being. We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill.
  • What humans need and want isn’t a complete release of tension and responsibility, but the pursuit of a worthwhile goal that they chose freely.
  • The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment.
  • Most men give in to doing what other people are doing, or what others tell them to do.
  • 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.
  • Imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended.
  • Self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.
  • No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves them. 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.
  • A forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes.
  • One is commanded and ordered to "be happy." But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to "be happy." If you want anyone to laugh you have to provide him with a reason, you have to tell him a joke. In no way is it possible to evoke real laughter by urging him, or having him urge himself to laugh.