How to find the meaning of (your) life - Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl
What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of your life? And maybe more importantly, why should you care?
Today's book in the 52 Book Challenge is Viktor Frankl's classic Man's Search for Meaning. This is book two of 52 for me. That's right, I'm reading 52 books in a year. If you want more details about the 52 Book Challenge, you can check out the episode where I explain the challenge.
So we're in book two. This has literally been on my list for I don't know how many years, probably multiple decades now. I just honestly have never gotten around to reading it. So I said this is the year I'm gonna read it. And it's almost a tale of two books if you haven't already read it. The first is the larger portion, which is his accounts of the three years he spent in Nazi concentration camps. It's his memoir in a way, and it's absolutely fascinating and horrific at the same time. And then the latter half, which isn't really quite a half, he explains his practice of what he calls logotherapy.
And it's fascinating, we'll unpack it really, really briefly. Here is what I thought was fascinating as he talked about the difference maker. Why did some men and women make it through this horrible suffering? Why outside of things outside of their control, where they just, some men were just taken and gassed or killed for a variety of reasons.
Why did some men die and some men had the will to live? What was the difference maker? This line haunted me. He says, the prisoner who had lost faith in the future, his future was doomed.
He goes on to describe a specific friend who had felt he had a dream that they were going to be released from this concentration camp on a specific date, and he had so much hope and so much hope, but as he got closer to the date that in his dream, he felt he was gonna be released, he got a lot of anxiety, of course, he didn't wanna be let down or disappointed, then the day came that he had in his dream that they were supposed to be set free, and it didn't happen, he died the next day.
Viktor writes, those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man, his courage and hope or lack of them, and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect. And what he goes on to say is that you needed to have some reason to hope for the future, either something you were going to accomplish or someone that was waiting for you when you got out of this mess to get you through it emotionally.
Or if you had no purpose in your life, nothing you were looking forward to, he challenged men in the camp that it wasn't about whether they had something they were even looking forward to, it was that life was expecting something from them, that they owed it to life to stay alive, that there were other people that they had yet to even meet who needed them, and in a way, how selfish of them to give up on their future because of what life almost demanded of them in the future. It's fascinating.
So with time being short, I want to skip to what I thought was one of the most powerful things he said, which is he gives a specific example for him. Why did he stay alive? Why did he not give up hope and just die? When he first got to the first Nazi concentration camp, he had a manuscript of a book he was writing. He was a doctor, psychiatrist. and it was taken from him and he tried to hide it and keep it because it was his life's work. It was the only thing he had left and he wanted to be able to, if he got out of this mess, have the book finished and published. It was taken away, ripped up. And so what he did was try to recreate it from his mind, like over the three years, rewrite it and scribble pieces of paper in the hopes that if he did get out, he could at least remember most, if not all, of the manuscript and write it down.
And he says, "Certainly my deep desire to write this manuscript anew helped me survive the rigors of the camps I was in. He says, I am sure that this reconstruction of my lost manuscript in the dark barracks of a Bavarian concentration camp assisted me in overcoming the danger of cardiovascular collapse."
Literally having something to hope for kept him alive. And so his premise is that we as human beings need to be striving for some purpose.
It's that tension of not having even achieved the thing we want to achieve yet that actually is what keeps us alive and well. So friend, if you've accomplished a lot in your life, don't stop. If you haven't accomplished what you hope to accomplish, don't stop. This striving, this healthy striving, this reaching for something or someone in the future is what gives us meaning in so many ways. You were made for more than yourself.
You were made for other people. You were made for creative works and endeavors. I also believe personally you were made for relationship with God himself. He put you here for a reason. And that reason is worth finding out. And having that expectation of the future is what gives man the reason and the will to live even in the most crazy suffering.
So as I think about it for myself, what got me in the back half of the book was simply this. The times when I felt despair are usually the times when I have actually accomplished a lot. And I'm like, well, what else is there to accomplish? And it reveals that man is not meant to just chill. Man is meant to be in that beautiful pursuit of meaning. It's what gives the moment, the present moment, value in so many ways because I'm moving towards some future hope or glory or accomplishment or becoming a better version of myself for the people that need me. What a beautiful, beautiful gift you can give them, the world and yourself.
That's my big takeaway from Man's Search for Meaning, let me know if you've read it in the comments below and let me know if you're gonna join me on this 52 book challenge. We'll see you on another episode, same time, same place.
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