PQ Book Club: Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”

You are all familiar with the famous quote: “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.” It originated from the existential philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and the meaning behind this simple phrase had a powerful impact on Viktor Frankl—in his endurance as a prisoner in concentrations camps and in his analysis of survival and the art of deeper living.

Real Experiences, Real Emotions

Man’s Search for Meaning is broken into two distinct sections. In the first section, Frankl describes the brutal conditions prisoners were faced with, as well as both the psychology and the stages they went through on their journey of survival or death. Despite everything, Frankl maintains that “human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation, and death.” We are taught that what makes life meaningful are only the good and beautiful things, and we often forget, or have never learned, that suffering is part of life, and moreover: suffering has meaning. “…there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer. Only very few realized that.”

The second section of the book, “Logotherapy in a Nutshell,” explains the theory and practice of this form of therapy: the will to meaning. Unlike mainstream or Freudian psychology, which maintains that humans are driven by pleasure, logotherapy believes the driving force is the meaning of human existence, and the search for this meaning.

What is Meaning and How Do We Find It?

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” This is another quote by Nietzsche that Frankl repeats throughout the book. What does this mean and why is it important? The “why” is the internal purpose and meaning in one’s life; the “how” is the outside circumstance. Any outside circumstance can be overcome by the deeper power within the self.

There is a strong correlation between Frankl’s belief in meaning and Pacific Quest’s mission: We both believe in, and are activists for, cultivating a life of purpose. Through horticultural and wilderness therapy, teens take action, create and experience. There is purpose through patience, routine, connectivity, community and nature. All of these elements strengthen personal growth and development.

In logotherapy, we can discover meaning in life in three different ways:

  1. “By creating a work or doing a deed
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone
  3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

The first, by way of achievement is easier and more understandable. “The second way of finding a meaning in life is by experiencing something—such as goodness, truth and beauty—by experiencing nature and culture or…by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness—by loving him.” The last way, but certainly not least, is to find purpose in suffering. This is the most blessed opportunity of all, for in moments of suffering and tragedy one can “bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph…we are challenged to change ourselves.” When we allow ourselves to change, we allow ourselves to grow. When we create, when we love, when we suffer, we grow and become whole.

This is a great book and we highly recommend it—for anyone seeking more out of life. Interested in other PQ Book Club reads? Click here or here.
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