Man’s Search for meaning…

Summary of Man’s search for meaning by Viktor E Frankl

Viktor Emil Frankl M.D.Ph.D. (March 26, 1905, LeopoldstadtVienna – September 2, 1997, Vienna) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. Frankl was the founder of logotherapy, which is a form of Existential Analysis, the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy“.

His best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning (published under a different title in 1959: From Death-Camp to Existentialism, and originally published in 1946 as trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager), chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and describes his psychotherapeutic method of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and thus a reason to continue living. Frankl was one of the key figures in existential therapy and a prominent source of inspiration for humanistic psychologists.

Frankl identifies three psychological reactions experienced by all inmates to one degree or another: (1) shock during the initial admission phase to the camp, (2) apathy after becoming accustomed to camp existence, in which the inmate values only that which helps himself and his friends survive, and (3) reactions of depersonalization, moral deformity, bitterness, and disillusionment if he survives and is liberated.

Frankl concludes that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. In a group therapy session during a mass fast inflicted on the camp’s inmates trying to protect an anonymous fellow inmate from fatal retribution by authorities, Frankl offered the thought that for everyone in a dire condition there is someone looking down, a friend, family member, or even God, who would expect not to be disappointed. Frankl concludes from his experience that a prisoner’s psychological reactions are not solely the result of the conditions of his life, but also from the freedom of choice he always has even in severe suffering. The inner hold a prisoner has on his spiritual self relies on having a faith in the future, and that once a prisoner loses that faith, he is doomed.

An example of Frankl’s idea of finding meaning in the midst of extreme suffering is found in his account of an experience he had while working in the harsh conditions of theAuschwitz concentration camp:

Frankl’s meaning in life is to help others find theirs.

Viktor E Frankl

  • Born: March 26, 1905, Vienna Died: September 2, 1997, Vienna
  • ACADEMIC TITLES M.D. (1930), Ph.D. (1949), Dr.h.c.mult.
  • First marriage (1941) with Tilly, b. Grosser (died in Bergen-Belsen 1945);
  • Second marriage (1947) with Eleonore, b. Schwindt;
  • Daughter Gabriele; 2 grandchildren, Katharina and Alexander; •2 great-grandchildren, Anna and Paul
  • VIKTOR EMIL FRANKL, M.D., PH.D. was Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School.

1940-42 Frankl was director of the Neurological Department of the Rothschild Hospital. During World War II he spent 3 years in various concentration camps, including Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Dachau. 1946-70 he was director of the Vienna Neurological Policlinic.

Man’s Search for Meaning

According to a survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club it belongs to “the ten most influential books in America.” (New York Times, November 20, 1991). And the readers of Japan’s “Yomiuri Shimbun” newspaper voted for “Man’s Search for Meaning as “one of the ten books to be passed to the twenty-first century” (Yomiuri Shimbun, Tokyo, 2000/11/30)

Viktor E. Frankl Quotes

  • A human being is a deciding being.
  • Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
  • Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human.
  • 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.
  • Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for
  • 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 his specific opportunity to implement it.
  • Everything can be taken from a man or a woman 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.
  • Fear may come true that which one is afraid of.
  • For 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.
  • I recommend that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast.
  • Life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives.
  • Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.
  • The last of human freedoms – the ability to chose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.
  • Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.
  • What is to give light must endure burning.
  • When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.


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DeafDave is a Deaf person who uses Auslan (Australian Sign Language). He is from Australia.
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