Summary of Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Man's Search For Meaning

During the Holocaust in the 1940s, Viktor Frankl spent three years in the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. His wife, mother, father, and brother all passed away in these camps. Contrary to the other prisoners surrounding him, he was able to find meaning and hope in the midst of one of the most devastating events in human history, despite severe hunger, severe illnesses, and brutal living conditions. It is not surprising that Man’s Search for Meaning, one of the most influential books in history, has sold over 10 million copies. This book is like The Secret, Attitude is Everything, and As a Man Thinketh, some of the best self-help books. We’ll discuss Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning summary in this post.

Summary of Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Let’s have a look at three powerful lessons we can learn from the book.

Lesson one: He who has a why to live for can bear with almost anyhow.

Let’s call the prisoner, ‘Felix’, who challenged Frankl. Felix described a dream that he had in February 1945. He wondered when he would be freed from the concentration camp and his suffering would end when a voice said he could make a wish. The voice announced that it was March 30. Felix was overjoyed and convinced that the voice in his dream was accurate. The fighting grew worse as the deadline drew near, making it appear less likely that freedom would be attained.

On March 29, Felix became suddenly ill. On March 30, the day he was set to be released, he collapsed. The 31st of March was the day of hid death. According to Frankl, the ultimate cause of my friend’s death was his tremendous disappointment that the expected liberation did not occur. As a result, his body’s defenses against the latent typhus infection were significantly reduced. The voice in his dream was true after all, his faith in the future had been paralyzed and his body had fallen to illness.

The chief physician of the concentration camp saw a rise in the number of prisoners dying between Christmas 1944 and New Year’s 1945, which gives legitimacy to this claim. The prisoner’s false expectation that they would be reunited with their families before Christmas, in the doctor’s opinion, was the cause of this. Many folks gave up as the deadline drew near and fell into a never-ending sleep.

So you might be asking, what can we learn from these stories?

Well, Frankl sums it up by saying, “Any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength, in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why, an aim for their lives, to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence.

Inmates who found a reason to live, then, had a stronger will to live and a higher chance of surviving. Serious illness and death were more likely to occur in those who lacked a drive to live. Frankl continues by describing two prisoners who were on the verge of killing themselves Despite making the clichéd claim that they had nothing left to live for, they chose not to commit suicide. Why? They kept going because they found a feeling of purpose. The other was a scientist who had begun a series of articles but never finished it. One had a child waiting for him in a foreign country.

A man will never be able to waste his life if he understands his responsibility to a person who is impatiently awaiting his arrival or to an unfinished task. He is aware of his purpose and can cope with it almost in any scenario.

Lesson two: Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which a man can aspire.

Everyone has a unique meaning, and according to Frankl, love is the highest and most ideal goal that a man can pursue. One man’s love for his child and another’s desire for writing books to share his discoveries with the world both kept them going.

Frankl’s devotion to his wife served as fuel for his persistence. He discovered the strength of love when he and his fellow prisoners were told to march to a construction site on a chilly, overcast day. The starving prisoners were thrashed, made to walk over big stones, and forced to endure the bitter cold. One of the prisoners murmured to Frankl, “If our wives could see us now, I hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.

Upon reflecting on this time in the past, Frankl said, “I did not know whether my wife was alive and I had no means of finding out. But at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying.”

The final lesson: When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Before going to a concentration camp, Frankl practiced as a clinical psychiatrist. He had dealt with a patient who was suicidal depressed. Let’s call him Peter. Peter’s grief over the passing of his wife two years’ prior appeared unbearable. Frankl worried what would have occurred if you had died first and your wife had to take care of you. Oh, he said, she would have found this awful. She would have suffered. Frankl replied, ‘You see, Peter, such an anguish has been spared, and it was you that spared her this agony’. He didn’t say anything, shook Frankl’s hand, and then quietly left the office.

Frankl said, “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning such as the meaning of a sacrifice. Of course, this was no therapy in the proper sense since first his despair was no disease, and second I could not change his fate. I could not revive his wife. But at that moment, I did succeed in changing his attitude toward his unalterable fate and he could now at least see a meaning in his suffering.

Many people who have been thrown into situations that seem hopeless in today’s world have found meaning in their life. Nick Vujicic is a prime example of what I’m referring to. He was born without arms or legs, but he overcame his physical restrictions to lead a rich, independent life. Today, he serves as an inspiration to millions of others who wish to overcome challenges and lead fulfilling lives.

There are some occurrences in life that cannot be avoided. Common events include the passing of loved ones, fatal illnesses, and forgotten memories. Man’s Search for Meaning compels us to admit that, despite the fact that we cannot stop suffering, we can choose how to deal with it, find meaning in it, and move on.

Well, this was the summary of Man’s Search for Meaning. If you like this summary, you will surely like my summary of  The Alchemist. For books summaries, click here.


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