Man’s Search for Meaning
By Victor Frankl
This is a significant book. Thousands who reviewed it agree that this is so. It has been voted as one of the ten most influential books. It gave a sense of sanity to many people and saved many lives. It is thought provoking and will change the thinking and actions of many people who read it.
Psychoanalysts have tried to explain what motivates people and what holds them together so they do not fall apart when troubles occur. Freud, for example, developed the idea that the sex drive propels people even when it is pushed into the subconscious and is sublimated. Art, according to him, is sublimated sex. Adler, to mention another example, felt that the search for power is what drives people.
Victor Frankl had a totally different view. He felt that people are not moved by their subconscious or unconscious drives; but it is a sense of meaning and purpose in life that holds them together, and stops them from falling apart when they face trouble. People cannot escape suffering, but they can learn to cope with it and transcend it if they have proper thoughts and a sense of purpose.
Frankl faced extreme trouble. He and his pregnant wife were placed in different concentration camps by the Nazis during the Second World War. His conditions in the camp were terrible. People around him lost their will to live, and they died. How did he survive? He survived by thinking about his reunion with his dear wife; the desire to reunite and the joy he expected to achieve in the reunion kept him alive. Frankl describes this in his book and tells how others can find meaning and what true meaning is. He calls this Logotherapy, based on the Greek “logos,” defined as “wisdom,” word,” “meaning.”
Frankl’s idea was mentioned in the twelfth century by Moses Maimonides who asked: The Bible mentions more than several times that God tested people, such as in Genesis 22, where it states that God tested Abraham to see if he loved God so much that he would even sacrifice his son Isaac if God commanded it? Maimonides was convinced that this episode never happened; it was a dream in which Abraham struggled whether he should follow the practices of his pagan neighbors who showed their love of God by sacrificing their children, and decided this was absurd. And Maimonides asked: Does God need to test people to discover their nature? He answered that whenever the Bible states that God tested someone, it means that the person was faced with a struggle, suffering, and doubt and had to make a decision; the person was being tested by nature, not God. If people could find meaning in the struggle and devote themselves to the discovered purpose, they will have passed the test. Abraham passed the test by realizing that true love of God is demonstrated by respecting everything that God created and working to improve himself and society.
Many people find meaning in religion. But unfortunately their concept of religion is passive. It does not encourage them to develop their minds, improve themselves, and help advance society – the three objects humans should strive to achieve. A religion in which people focus on superstitions rather than work, one that is “an opiate of the masses,” may give them satisfaction, may even help them survive in adversity, but this is not enough. Thus reading Frankl’s book should aid people develop significant and creative meanings in their lives.