If you search “what book should I read?” or “top 10 must-read books of our time” you will inevitably come across this book written by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl. It wouldn’t be an understatement that this book literally altered the way I think about things in the face of tragedy. Everything inside my being was telling me to give up, and these words gave me the wisdom to find meaning. This is a book of survival and thriving no matter what life dishes you, it’s your responsibility to create something within that gives you purpose to find meaning in everything that will inevitably come your way.
As a Holocaust survivor, Dr. Frankl shares his gut-wrenching experiences within four concentration camps during WWII. He was a practicing psychiatrist in Vienna before the occupation of the Germans. His entire family (Parents, siblings, pregnant wife) were all deported soon after the occupation. Dr. Frankl and his pregnant wife both had Visas to leave to the U.S. but let them expire to be with his elderly parents in the unknown circumstances before deportation. He shares his perspective on how that decision has massive meaning (in that moment) because he was able to treat his parents in Auschwitz during the time of their death. He found meaning in his decision through one of the three main avenues of “Logotherapy”, a belief that meaning would give him everything that he needed to survive. He ultimately lives through the ordeal to find out that everyone he had ever loved had died within the camps, and he still finds meaning around those experiences and shares it very intimately with his words.
The second portion of the book, Dr. Frankl explains (His theory) Logotherapy and how he used these teaching (“Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy”) to survive his time in the camps. The idea of logotherapy is based on “existential analysis” and using the “will of meaning” as what dictates human behavior. Our need and want for meaning in all things alters the way we view ourselves and the way we cope with traumatic circumstances. Dr. Frankl was working on his book about the theory before deportation and then ended up using his own beliefs to find a deeper meaning and purpose as to “why” and what was to be “gained” from his experiences in the camps. He also used that to study others within the camps and why some just seemed to give up, how they seemed to have no meaning in life anymore. He goes on to speak about the “Tragic Triad” (Pain, Death, Guilt) and the Case for “Tragic Optimism” in the final postscript of this book. Its fucking mind boggling to find such a simplistic way to control your thoughts and to connect meaning to all chapters and experiences within your life.
“By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic “the self-transcendence of human existence.” It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself–be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself–by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love–the more human he is, and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it? In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”
― Viktor E. Frankl
First off here I was living in my own bullshit around a betrayal from a wife and how I lost everything. Immediately when I started reading this book, I no longer found tears for my personal circumstances but crying uncontrollably to hear this mans story. My brain just ticks like this, I’m sitting here creating a framework of how unfathomable my life has become and here is this man spending four years of his life in an unimaginable environment. To make it worse he found meaning and was grateful for his experiences, he mentioned (I’m going to butcher this) that mankind owed these camps for what it taught humanity. I would never have people “compare” traumatic experiences because we all perceive things in our own ways, but this was another level for me to step back and see that this man found fucking meaning in this shit. I had to find meaning within my shit, I was responsible for my own outcome, I needed to transcend myself, and this book gave me the courage to do so.
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”
― Victor Frankl