Man’s Search for Meaning

I read this 10 years ago and may make a habit of re-reading it every decade. Frankl survived the horrors of Auschwitz and Dachau through transcending the filth and negative and despair. The last of human freedoms is to choose your attitude under any set of circumstances, to choose how you react. What matters is to make the best of any given situation.

He quotes Bismark: “Life is like being at the dentist. You always think that the worst is still to come, and yet it is over already.” Nietzsche is also quoted several times: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

Frankl founded a school of thought called logotherapy, which believes the meaning of life can be discovered in three different ways: by creating work or doing a deed; by experiencing something or encountering someone; by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering (if it’s avoidable and you wallow in it, you’re masochistic.) The notion that “experiencing can be as valuable as achieving is therapeutic because it compensates for our one-sided emphasis on the external world of achievement at the expense of the internal world of experience” (here he quotes Edith Weisskopf-Joelson.)

It also embraces the idea of paradoxical intention as cure (the stutterer who can’t stutter when he tries to, the man who sweats excessively unable to sweat when trying to do so). The procedure consists of a reversal of the patient’s attitude. “By this treatment, the wind is taken out of the sails of anxiety.”

Despite losing his wife, parents, brother to the concentration camps, he survives and pulls himself back into humanity; the meaning of his life was to help others discover the meaning of theirs.