A few months ago my friend, Loretta, and I began a book club where we discussed psychology specific books. The first book we picked to read was Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It turned out to be an excellent choice because it gave us so much to talk about. I suppose it goes without saying that it was a very enjoyable book to read. It’s engaging, enlightening, and surprisingly uplifting, given the material it’s based on.
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl recounts his personal experiences in the concentration camp. He goes further by describing the qualities that set the different prisoners apart in the way they allowed their circumstances to affect their attitudes and even their decision to survive.
It is the inside story of a concentration camp, told by one of its survivors. This tale is not concerned with the great horrors, which have already been described often enough (though less often believed), but with the multitude of small torments. In other words, it will try to answer this question: How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner? (pg.21)
What sets this book apart from other accounts of concentration camps is that it emphasizes the impact these experiences had on the prisoners without focusing entirely on the gory details. In no way does Frankl belittle the pain and difficulties undergone by the prisoners. Instead he uses the painful experiences to show that it is our attitudes and inner decision to survive that influence the end, more than the external circumstances do.
The author mentions that one of the methods he used to survive camp life was by focusing on the future. He pictured himself in front of an attentive audience while he delivered a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp.
While the first part of this book focuses on the experiences in the concentration camp, the second part describes Frankl’s own psychological theory: Logotherapy. He refused to accept that man was a slave to his inner urges and instincts, or that he was a puppet of his circumstances. He believed that man was rational, with the capacity for spiritual freedom achieved in finding a purpose to his life.
Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning. There are some authors who contend that meanings and values are “nothing but defense mechanisms, reaction formations and sublimations. “But as for myself, 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! (pg.123)
Viktor Frankl’s conversational style of writing enhances the quality of this book. Man’s Search for Meaning is inspiring, thought provoking, and even endearing. I consider it as one of my favourites and have underlined large portions of it. It’s only about a hundred and eighty one pages, and I would highly recommend anyone reading this post to get themselves a copy. It’s a beautiful, beautiful book!