Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor E. Frankl

Learn how to motivate yourself and overcome any situation, however difficult it may seem.

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Have you ever stopped to think about why we do what we do during our life? Do you think your situation is difficult and several insurmountable obstacles appear every day? Are you lost and not knowing which way to go? So, follow this story!

In this summary, we will talk about the meaning of life, in addition to the meaning we give to the sufferings and conflicts that will be discussed in an existential analysis narrative of one of the prisoners of a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

Here you will learn how the preservation of life is an attitude of immediate choice and that the construction of reality is linked to our actions in the face of despair and the pain inflicted on us. All of this, portrayed in the work "In Search of Meaning", which is an example of the philosophical current of existentialism.

Want to know more? So keep reading that we will explain better how this author can surprise you and motivate you to overcome any situation, no matter how difficult it may seem to be!

The book "Man's Search for Meaning"

The book "Man's Search for Meaning" has 107 pages and was written in just nine days in the year 1945 and published in 1946. The author Viktor Frankl reports three years of experience as a prisoner in 4 concentration camps he went through.

The work is divided into two main parts: the first "In Search of Meaning" and the second "Fundamental Concepts of Logotherapy".

The first part consists of several sub-chapters with reports by the author on the attitudes that kept him alive during the Holocaust, after the withdrawal of all his ambitions to continue fighting for life.

In the second part, the concepts of the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy" are explained, after the first school which is Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis school, and the second by Alfred Adler, the founder of individual development psychology. In the end, there is a third part that addresses a summary of a lecture given by the author.

Who was Viktor E. Frankl?

Viktor E. Frankl was a renowned Austrian professor of neurology and psychiatry, as well as being the founder of Logotherapy. Coming from a Jewish and extremely religious family, he worked for many years as a psychiatrist at the public hospital Steinhof in the city of Vienna, Austria.

In addition, he is a fan of the philosophy of freedom of choice and an indeterminate future. Among the various books and articles published by the author, "Man's Search for Meaning" is the most well-known work, and is also a source of inspiration for several doctoral theses and research in Medicine, Philosophy and Psychology.

Why should I read it?

In addition to researchers and scholars in the medical field, psychology and law who will have objective material and with clear examples of situations of violation of human rights, the book is suitable for all those who have the purpose of seeking meaning in their lives, or for those who are experiencing difficulties in taking action in the face of adversity.

Caution is also advised with the experiences portrayed in the first part of the book about the reports of violence that occurred within the concentration camp.

What are the key points of the book "Man's Search for Meaning"?

We have separated some main ideas of the work to guide your knowledge, check below:

  • We have the power to choose our reactions to events. When going through a situation that is beyond your control, decide to act within your capabilities and don't despair! After all, you do not have the power to change what is afflicting you.
  • The goal of life is not a search for material goals, professional careers, pleasure and power, but a search for purpose and meaning!
  • According to Nietzsche, "He who has a reason to live, can face almost all hows". Look for good reasons to live! The search for a job with purpose, the love of those close to you or the courage to achieve your dreams.
  • Be responsible for your choices! Think before you decide something important in your life, do not choose something hastily, the chances of choosing something wrong are greater when our options are not well analyzed.

Are you curious? Check out these and many other insights about this book full of lessons and profound experiences now! Come on!

Download the "Man's Search for Meaning" Book Summary in PDF for free

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[Book Summary] Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning

Active and passive selection

The relentless struggle for survival and the preservation of their interests and of their most intimate group of friends led prisoners in concentration camps to take extreme action. Thus, survival often did not go through questions with abstract and moral reflections on life or the attitudes that they would have to take in order to survive for another day.

The book "Man's Search for Meaning" tells several experiences lived through the author's reports and events of other people who were dehumanized and started to be identified by numbers. These numbers were tattooed on their bodies and on scraps of their clothes.

Often, when these numbers were written down by Nazi officers, it could mean filing a complaint, due to "laziness" and which would eventually lead to the transfer of the prisoner to Auschwitz for probable extermination.

There were different ways to die, either starving to death from starvation, among other ways such as gas chambers, the torture of doctors and soldiers, or by intense physical exhaustion after so long of mistreatment and forced labor.

Viktor Frankl reports that he worked most of his time in the first concentration camp in excavations and in the construction of railways, unlike the other colleagues who passed through makeshift posts for small medical emergencies.

Therefore, he makes an observation that is as follows: life is preserved by singular attitudes, whether made by the individual himself, fleeing the concentration camp or by determinant causes of the environment, such as relocation to a better place. These are, respectively, the active and passive selection of the survivors.

Auschwitz railway station

Imagine the psychological shock of entering a crowded train carrying over 1500 people... The locomotive's shrill whistle increased the anxiety of the imaginary terrified by the gas chambers, the crematorium ovens, or the so-called "death ramps", and the terrible mass executions.

On the same day they entered the train, several of them revealed that they maintained the illusion of pardon, that they would be saved at the last minute before their execution.

On the way to Auschwitz, and through the fields that author Viktor E. Frankl passed through, the scene is filled with barbed wire connected to the high tension on the walls and fences, several watchtowers with armed guards, as well as reflectors and several prisoners in rags, gray with dirt and snow.

Over time, facing the horror of this situation has become somewhat indifferent to the long-suffering prisoners.

The first selection

In a row composed of men and another for women, the first selection took place between the sick and those who could continue to work. Thus, when they arrived at the concentration camp, the prisoners were completely shaved, had their heads shaved and were called prisoners and, in addition, all their belongings were collected.

After the collection of personal possessions, which are part of history and individual memory, completely naked, the mere existence was a frightening truth. Among the screams of the tortured, he was there, not in control of the situation.

What were the first reactions about life and death?

Morbid humor was a source of curiosity for the author, the jokes mixed with the chaotic scene and reflected the pain of those who were there. Therefore, the most common method of suicide among them was to "get in the loop", a common joke among these men with a low life expectancy.

In the first days of his stay, the selection that was expected of the prisoner was made in order to demonstrate good health and willingness to carry out the work in the concentration camp.

What hurts: apathy and scorn

Feelings were diverse, in addition to apathy, longing for family members, disgust, revolt and desensitization were common in everyone.

The author Viktor E. Frankl, tells a scene in which when carrying the body of a prisoner who did not resist, he saw the body roll towards the small grave and the appropriation of all the "goods" that still remained in the possession of the deceased body with indifference.

There, even the children were the target of baton blows for arbitrary corrections by the Schutzstaffel (SS) for indiscipline. In the midst of it, it was not possible to offer help to those in need. Capos, privileged prisoners and sometimes more violent than the Nazi military acted violently and repressed these feelings of cooperation among prisoners.

There was a Capo who wanted to confide in him some things that were bothering him to the doctor and the author tried to help in all possible ways and with that, he made a helper that mitigated some situations that happened.

Dreams of prisoners: hunger

Hunger was a constant problem in the countryside and the pain of any nightmare was less than the reality they faced. Being constantly deprived of various needs to survive, dreams were basically composed of their favorite dishes, breads, cakes and pies.

Extreme malnutrition caused the so-called "stomach onanism", which was the constant conversation about food. The prisoners received a very watery soup and a small portion of bread, the provision of these foods was what would remain between their lives and their deaths.

The flight into oneself: Politics and religion

In addition to the withdrawal of feelings, involvement in intellectual and cultural issues is also evident. However, all prisoners argue, share and hear about any remnant of political information, the only issue that went through all the whispered conversations about the situation of the government and the military.

Over time and with fatigue, people could not even form words and pronounce them without any mental confusion or even physical strength and then, they resigned themselves to being silent, notwithstanding, people who were used to intellectual activities and cultural refugees took refuge in their hearts and minds, where they were free and full of wealth.

When nothing else is left: Meditation in the ditch

In the face of so many pains, the strength of love recovers human faith. Viktor who was going through difficult situations found in his wife's image the peace and calm that he needed to endure that moment when he was subjected to snowstorms and cold.

Even without knowing her whereabouts, the comfort he found in thinking about her made him realize that the most important thing is the feeling and not the confirmation of her physical existence at that moment. Over the days, these contemplative thoughts began to reflect his view of the beautiful things he could rely on. Traveling by train to another concentration camp he saw a beautiful landscape in which it resembled Dürer's watercolors, and thought to himself: "The world could be so beautiful!".

Art in the concentration camp

In the concentration camp, there was an improvised theater for the prisoners. The art was made in a simple way by the prisoners, but it was also a time of relief to laugh or cry during lunch that served a thin soup with a few peas or potatoes that were at the bottom of the pot and hopefully could stop on your plate.

When he heard the singing of another inmate, as a form of self-preservation, he thought of jokes, so that when he returned to society and when he was served, he also asked to be given a bowl of soup from the bottom, where there would be more food.

Fate plaything and the last decorated wish

As mentioned earlier, the list of numbers became the identification of prisoners, depersonifying their names and origins, so it was common for prisoners to change their names and assume other identities on the most diverse occasions.

There was an event that deserves to be highlighted, one of the officers asked the prisoners to form a queue, and then through an arbitrary selection, he decided who would be sent that night to work that day, and, luckily, Viktor was not called, the which the next morning proved to have meant the death of all workers.

These desperate situations were constant. When he was again relocated to another concentration camp, Viktor thought he was being taken to the gas chamber and made his friend, Otto, who was in the room promise to remember his oath to his wife, he should tell her that he never loved a woman as much as she did.

After that moment, he was transferred and had no further contact with Otto and wonders today where he will be and what happened to him...

Escape plan

You must be asking yourself, why not run away? After all, the situation was inconceivable. Keep following the story of the book "In Search of Meaning" and you will understand better!

Earlier in the day, a warning was given that the camp in which Viktor was staying should be evacuated with all prisoners, doctors and the sick. Then, at dusk, a doctor representing the Red Cross appeared and said that some would be taken to a central camp and that within 48 hours, all would be taken to Switzerland safely as prisoners of war.

A new hope appeared in his heart, he would finally leave the concentration camp. However, right after they got on the truck, the front shot all the doctors and set the former patients on fire who were charred in a concentration camp close to where they were.


Apathy was caused by many sources, such as sleep deprivation, consistent hunger, poor hygiene and flea parasites that settled in their bedrooms and skins.

Distant, from what the author calls "toxic civilization" like coffee and nicotine, the days passed in an environment that shook all inmates.

The inner freedom

In the concentration camp, the only alternative in which prisoners clung was freedom, this is an intrinsic characteristic of the human being and it is an inner decision, so, what was the point of going through all of that?

Read below and reflect on which statement is that of the author and that of his companions in confinement:

  1. "Does it have felt all this suffering, this death around us? Otherwise, after all, it doesn't make sense to survive the concentration camp."
  2. "Are we going to survive the concentration camp? Otherwise, all this suffering is meaningless."

Frankl argues that it is not for salvation that life is worthwhile, but to make sense of what they are going through. Thus, a life worth living is one in which there is a configuration of meaning for suffering, reflected in the first alternative and also in its motto of logotherapy.

The destination: an analysis of the provisional existence

The perception of time was also affected, they had an existence conditioned by the military and without deadlines for liberation.

The fantasies about the moment when they would leave that place aroused strong emotions and the idea of not surrendering to the destination was recurrent due to the worsening situation of food, epidemics, work and climate. Keep positive thoughts to keep your hopes up.

An example of someone who gave the points was noticed when he smoked the cigarettes that were used as a bargaining chip for some food, it was then known that the subject would probably die within 48 hours.

We can also approach the point of view of the courage it is to endure that suffering, to know that someone is waiting for him outside the fields and the effects of a right word at the right time made the difference between someone "getting in the way" or continuing to resist.

The third phase: after the release comes the farewell

The psychology of a newly freed man is that everything does not seem to be real, a great relief arises and the awareness that his requests to the Lord have been heard.

The mind becomes a whirlwind of questions such as: "Where is my family?", "Will I have the joy of living again?", "Will I find fun in simple things?", "What will be the consequences left by this phenomenon of absurd psychological pressure to which they were subjected?".

However, something that did not cross their minds was the bitterness and disappointment in knowing that their relatives and loves were dead and that no happiness on Earth would be enough to nullify or compensate for all the suffering passed by them.

Fundamental Concepts of Logotherapy

The desire for meaning

Logotherapy is a therapeutic doctrine that aims to improve the patient's senses and talks about:

  1. The existence itself;
  2. The sense of existing;
  3. The sense and the will to complete sense.

Among these meanings mentioned above are neogenic neuroses, which are the union of existential problems, such as the concern with the anxieties of life and whether it is worth living or not.

Thus, the role of the psychotherapist is to assist in these conflicts to drive personal development and growth, as a way of relieving these inner tensions and depolarizing the senses.

The existential vacuum was based on traditions that served for people to make certain decisions, from the point of view of totalitarianism to do what is mandated and of conformism when they were to do what others did.

Sense of life

We arrived at an important part of the book "Man's Search of Meaning", what would the real meaning of life really be?

Well, it differs from one person to another and we can say that life itself has abstract meanings, each one has a mission or vocation and the search for responsibility is in the human essence.

The responsibilities are in the conceptual principles of logotherapy, it seeks to broaden horizons and expand knowledge about human existence. In this way, the more a person dedicates himself to something and forgets about himself, he will be approaching self-transcendence.

These are the actions of Logotherapy:

  1. Create a job or practice aggrandizing acts;
  2. Try something or find someone new;
  3. Have an attitude of resilience in the face of inevitable suffering.

The meaning of love and suffering

"Love is the only way to capture another human being in the depths of your personality."

According to author Viktor Frankl, the person who loves the other truly empowers them to achieve their goals and successes in life. As a consequence, sex is seen as a form of expression of love and an act of courage in choosing to suffer and live for the loved one.

Therefore, the meaning of suffering must be seen as a human achievement. Overcoming coronavirus, cancer and other diseases is challenging our existence and at that moment, the sense of sacrifice prevails over psychological, biological and political causes.

A logodrama: The super meaning and the transience of life

Logotherapy aims to develop our awareness of the essential responsibilities that are our attitudes. Therefore, the patient is asked what attitudes he will take? How will you define which chances you will take and which ones you will refuse?

It is also learned that there is no way to erase the past, but the future is built every minute. So keep your memories, your stories, and be thankful for the experiences you have. Embrace hope for the future and accept the reality that cannot change!

Logotherapy as a technique

Logotherapy bases its technique on the "paradoxical intention" which is the consequent reproduction of what we are afraid of.

It is effective in several cases such as sleep disorders, fear of insomnia and constant headaches or "migraines". In addition, of course, to the self-transcendence that aims to maintain the individual freedom of processing ideas and preserving the patient's dignity.

The Thesis of Tragic Optimism

The lecture for the Congress

This chapter of the book "In Search of Meaning" portrays a lecture in which the author Viktor Frankl presented at the III World Congress of Logotherapy.

The triad concept of tragic optimism:

  1. Pain: "transforming suffering into a human achievement and achievement";
  2. Guilt: "removing from guilt the opportunity to change yourself for the better";
  3. Death: "make the transience of life an incentive to take responsible actions."

The book ends with the author stressing that the answer to the change in your reality will be made only by you, nobody has the power to decide how you will react and, therefore, only you can take action and choose to overcome and be happy!

Books about inspiration

In the book, "Ikigai: The five steps to finding your life purpose", by author Ken Mogi, you can learn a little more about the culture of Japanese happiness and in five steps to find a life purpose that will give you what Viktor E. Frankl says, an uplifting and pleasurable job that will be another goal in your life.

The work "The Second Mountain", by the Canadian author David Brooks, deals with the philosophy of meanings and commitments for a search for the meaning of life. He talks about a moral journey centered on aspects such as his vocation, marriage, faith, and community.

In addition to these books, we can also mention the "Autobiography: My Life and My Experiences with the Truth", by Mohandas Gandhi. He is an inspiration on ethics and philosophy of life, nicknamed "Mahatma" which means greatness of soul, he brought peace activism. You will also be able to learn more about determination, leadership and motivation.

Remember that the aim of life according to author Viktor E. Frankl is to seek the meaning and the sense of why to live!

So, how can I be a better person?

After this intense reading, we have some actions that can be taken from now on to improve our quality of life:

  • Decide to cultivate a feeling of resilience in order to act according to events;
  • Act on the actions that we can change and accept what we cannot change!
  • Be grateful for today and transform your mindset for a better tomorrow;
  • Look for new sources of inspiration every day, be it your family or your purpose in life;
  • Set goals so that you can stay motivated and notice that the bad periods are passing;
  • Don't compare yourself to anyone, each human being is unique and their destiny is very specific.

Did you like this summary of the book "Man's Search for Meaning"?

After this incredible story, are you feeling the breath of life lighter?

So decide now, make yours today better than yours yesterday and wait for tomorrow to arrive before you look forward to it!

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Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor E. Frankl