Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl – Susan’s Newsletter Oct. 2009



Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
October 22, 2009 Susan’s Newsletter
    What gives us meaning?  What keeps us striving for morality?  Why, among our own sufferings, or after the death of those we love, why (how) can we find true meaning in our existence?

Followed by August 20, 2009 Newsletter
        (the soul’s ability to grow during extreme hardships – this is BEAUTIFUL paragraph)
Hi!  This is going to be a longer note, because I don’t know what to take out of what I think you could think about this week – save the note for when you have ten minutes, but I truly encourage you to read this one!
Last week Stu encouraged me to read a short book that any of you could tackle – Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, believing this would be a book that would be worthy of writing on for a Thursday note.  This book was written by a doctor that survived several German concentration camps, where his wife and parents were all murdered.  Before the war he worked in a hospital in Vienna where he headed the neurological department and was a brain surgeon.  His main interest was working with patients that had lost hope in life – lost a meaning for life and were prone to suicide.  Ironically, he was a Jew and was sent to concentration camps.  The first half of the book is on his experiences in the camp – on the different reactions to despair among his friends within the camp.  Because of his extensive training in suicide prevention and keeping meaning when there seems no meaning, he often is called on to encourage those completely losing their reason for trying in life (oftentimes trying to keep his own mind from despair).
The second half of the book is on man’s search for meaning – in all areas of life (not the extreme of those suffering in situations like the camps, but in everyday life of man).  What gives us meaning?  What keeps us striving for morality?  Why, among our own sufferings, or after the death of those we love, why (how) can we find true meaning in our existence?
Okay – I’ve tried to take out some of what I typed below – but I can’t decide what to take out – for those of you that need this – I’m going to keep it all in. 
People forget that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.
Take the fate of the sick -especially those who are incurable.  I once read a letter written by a young invalid, in which he told a friend that he had just found out he would not live for long, that even an operation would be of no help.  He wrote further that he remembered a film he had seen in which a man was portrayed who waited for death in a courageous and dignified way. The boy had thought it a great accomplishment to meet death so well.  Now – he wrote – fate was offering him a similar chance.
I have nothing to expect from life anymore”…What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life.  We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.  We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly.  Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct.  Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. 
Rilke wrote, “How much suffering there is to get through!”  Rilke spoke of “getting through suffering” as others would talk of “getting through work.”  There was plenty of suffering for us to get through.  Therefore, it was necessary to face up to the full amount of suffering, trying to keep moments of weakness and furtive tears to a minimum.  But 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. 
I remember two cases of would-be suicide which bore a striking similarity to each other.  Both men had talked of their intentions to commit suicide.  Both used the typical argument – they had nothing more to expect from life.  In both cases it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them.  We found, in fact, that for the one it was his child whom he adored and who was waiting for him in a foreign country.  For the other it was a thing, not a person.  This man was a scientist and had written a series of books which till needed to be finished.  His work could not be done by anyone else, any more than another person could ever take the place of the father in his child’s affections. 
This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love.  When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude.  A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.  He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.
When he was trying to encourage the prisoners in his bunk when he was also in a state of despair – after a day food was withheld from them for not telling on a friend that stole bread…
They must not lose hope but should keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning.  I said that someone looks down on each of us in different hours – a friend, a wife, somebody alive or dead, or a God – and he would not expect us to disappoint him.  He would hope to find us suffering proudly – not miserably – knowing how to die. 
On Morality:
Man is never driven to a moral behavior; in each instance he decides to behave morally.  Man does not do so in order to satisfy a moral drive and to have a good conscience; he does so for the sake of a cause to which he commits himself, or for a person whom he loves, or for the sake of his God.  If he actually did it for the sake of having a good conscience, hew would become a Pharisee and cease to be a truly moral person.  I think that even the saints did not care for anything other than simply to serve God, and I doubt that they ever had it in mind to become saints.  If that were the case, they would have become only perfectionists rather than saints.  Morality is more than just a sleeping pill (as in the adage “good conscience is the best pillow”).
“So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”
The meaning of life always changes, but that it never ceases to be.   We can discover this meaning in life by three different ways:
    1. doing a deed
    2. by experiencing a value
            Experiencing something (work, nature, culture) or by experiencing someone (love)…by loving someone he sees that which is potential in him, that which is not yet actualized by yet ought to be actualized.  By his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities.  By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should be, he makes these potentialities come true.
    3. by suffering
            def.  Whenever one is confronted with an inescapable, unavoidable situation, whenever one has to face a fate that cannot be changed (ex. incurable disease) just then is one given a last chance to actualize the highest value, to fulfill the deepest meaning, the meaning of suffering.  (He writes on “happiness” in the culture of the US – “where the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading”…There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one’s work or to enjoy one’s life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidabity of suffering.  In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end.  Life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of suffering…
A mother’s reflection on caring for a crippled son for most of her life…
“I wished to have children and this wish has been granted to me; one boy died, the other, however, the crippled one, would have been sent to an institution if I had not taken over his care.  Though he is crippled and helpless, he is after all my boy.  And so I have made a fuller life possible for him; I have made a better human being out of my son.”  At this moment, there are tears & crying, then she continues…”As for myself, I can look back peacefully on my life; for I can say my life was full of meaning, and I have tried hard to fulfill it; I have done my best – I have done the best for my son.  My life was no failure!”  Even though her healthy son died young, she realized that life could be so rich in joy and love that it could contain more meaning that a life lasting 80 years.
Here is a link to some of Viktor Frank’s quotes:  A few examples are:
    When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.
    What is to give light must endure burning.
I will leave the rest of the thinking today to you – this isn’t a long book, but I believe all of us should have it on our shelves.  I wish I hadn’t waited so long to read it myself.  Go – take on your day.  There is intense meaning no matter what is taking place in your life personally.  Find someone’s eyes to look into – someone that needs your kindness.  There is a reason for your creation – if you truly have no idea what your meaning is, then get on your knees and ask God….you will be given peace and an answer.  The pursuit of seeing his eyes in heaven look into yours with pride.  All day long I have to recharge my mind – what I think about….a constant inner decision.  So easy to snap, to lose hope, to not want to give the day our best – but it is always our decision (even after I just told Camden to be quiet so I could get this done- grin!) (He grinned back, though!)  Have a great weekend – if you’re farming, I’m sorry about the rain….make your coffee extra strong and sneak an extra Snicker bar when no one is looking!  Susan

Latin for this week:  numquam dede or numquam trade – Never give up.  
Works Cited:
Frankl, Viktor.  Man’s Search for Meaning.  New York, NY.  Simon & Schuster Pocket Books.  1939.


August 20, 2009 Susan’s Newsletter
A Grace Disguised by Stittser
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
     (the soul’s ability to grow during extreme hardships – this is BEAUTIFUL paragraph)
Good morning!  I read a book this week called A Grace Disguised by Sittser.  He writes on the choices we make after loss in our lives that are irreversible.  There is no way I can make this short and write even a fraction of what has given me more encouragement to fully live than any other book yet on loss.  He had his 4-year old daughter, wife, and mother all killed in an accident, leaving him a single father with an injured 2-year old, and two elementary children.  This is his writing on how to live even through extreme pain.  He describes loss as anything irreversible that affects us greatly….
  What has happened to me has pressed me to the limit.  I have come face to face with the darker side of life and with the weakness of my own human nature.  As vulnerable as I feel most of the time, I can hardly call myself a conqueror.  If I give the impression I think myself heroic, perfect, or strong, then I give the wrong impression.  My experience has only confirmed in my mind how hard it is to face loss and how long it takes to grow form it.  But it has also reminded me how meaningful and wonderful life can be, even and especially in suffering. 
Chapter 1: The End and the Beginning  (You know as well as I there’s more…There’s always one more scene no matter what.  Archibald McLeish)  He tells here the story of the accident where his mother, wife, and 4-year old daughter were killed.
Chapter 2: Whose Loss is Worse?
Loss is loss, whatever the circumstances.  Whose loss is worse?  The question begs the point.  Each experience of loss is unique, each painful in its own way, each as bad as everyone else’s but also different.  No one will ever know the pain I have experienced because it is my own, just as I will never know the pain you may have experienced.  What good is quantifying loss?  What good is comparing?  The right question to ask is not, “Whose is worse?”  It is to ask, “What meaning can be gained from suffering, and how can we grow through suffering?”  (He discusses irreversible loss as death, suffering, divorce, change in relationships….all are loss)…
Chapter 3: Darkness Closing In
the quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.  I discovered I had the power to choose the direction my life would head, even if the only choice open to me, at least initially, was either to run from the loss or to face it as best I could.  Since I knew that darkness was inevitable and unavoidable, I decided form that point on to walk into the darkness rather than try to outrun it, to let my experience of loss take me on a journey wherever it would lead, and to allow myself to be transformed by my suffering rather than to think I could somehow avoid it.  I chose to turn toward the pain, however falteringly, and to yield to the loss, though I had no idea at the time what that would mean.
   We do not always have the freedom to choose the roles we just play in life, but we can choose how we are going to play the roles we have been given.  Choice is therefore the key.  We can run from the darkness, or we can enter into the darkness and face the pain of loss.  We can indulge ourselves in self-pity, or we can empathize with others and embrace their pain as our own.  We can run away from sorrow and drown it in addictions, or we can learn to live with sorrow.  We can nurse wounds of having been cheated in life, or we can be grateful and joyful, even though there seems to be little reason for it.  We can return evil for evil, or we can overcome evil with good.  It is this power to choose that adds dignity to our humanity and gives us the ability to transcend our circumstances, thus releasing us form living as mere victims.  These choices are never easy.  Though we can and must make them,  we must make them more often than not only after much agony and struggle. 
  Victor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning (from the concentration camps)…It was this power to choose that kept the prisoners alive.  They directed their energies inwardly and paid attention to what was happening in their souls.  They learned that tragedy can increase the soul’s capacity for darkness and light, for pleasure as well as for pain, for hope as well as for dejection.  The soul contains a capacity to know and love God, to become virtuous, to learn truth, and to live by moral conviction.  The soul is elastic, like a balloon.  It can grow larger through suffering.  Loss can enlarge its capacity for anger, depression, , despair, and anguish, all natural and legitimate emotions whenever we experience loss.   Once enlarged, the soul is also capable of experiencing greater joy, strength, peace, and love.  What we consider opposites – east and west, night and light, sorrow and joy weakness and strength, anger and love, despair and hope, death and life – are no more mutually exclusive than winter and sunlight.  The soul has the capacity to experience these opposites, even at the same time.  In choosing to face the night, I took my first steps toward the sunrise.
Chapter 4: The Silent Scream of Pain
Chapter 5: Sailing on a Sea of Nothingness
    Deep sorrow often has the effect of stripping life of pretense, vanity, and waste.  It forces us to ask basic questions about what is most important in life.  Suffering can lead to a simpler life, less cluttered with non-essentials.  It is wonderfully clarifying.  That is why many people who suffer sudden and severe loss often become different people.  They spend more time with their children or spouses, express more affection and appreciation to their friends, show more concern for other wounded people, give more time to a worthy cause, or enjoy more of the ordinariness of life…
Chapter 6: The Amputation of the Familiar Self
So with the background already sketched in by circumstances beyond my control, I picked up a paintbrush and began, with great hesitation and distress, to paint a new portrait of our lives….Can any person look forward to a life that falls so far short of what he or she had planned, wanted, and expected?
Chapter 7: A Sudden Halt to Business as Usual (Discusses the “gradual destruction of the soul” or “the death of the spirit” as the worse kind of death after loss…the death that comes through guilt, regret, bitterness, hatred, immorality, and despair….The first kind of death happens to us; the second kind of death happens in us.  It is a death we bring upon ourselves if we refuse to be transformed by the first death.)
Chapter 8: The Terror of Randomness (He discusses the question of where was God?  Why didn’t I leave five minutes earlier or later…what if….why that moment? What is God’s role in “fate”?)
Chapter 9: Why not Me? (On the gifts God has given him throughout his life, including the gift of his own life….My confidence in God is somehow quieter but stronger.  I feel little pressure to impress God or prove myself to him; yet I want to serve him with all my heart and strength.  My life is full of bounty, even as I continue to feel the pain of loss…I have slowly learned where God belongs and have allowed him to assume that place – at the center of life rather than at the periphery….
Chapter 10: Forgive & Remember…(Forgiveness of many situations…divorce, children, parental pain…forgiveness of who was responsible for an accident…forgiveness of self for not doing what could’ve been done to prevent the loss (health issues in the spouse, etc.)
Chapter 11: The Absence of God
I would have to wrestle with this most complex of issues.  If God was really God, where was he when the tragedy occurred?  Why did he do nothing?  How could God allow such a terrible thing to happen?  My suffering forced me to address the problem of God’s sovereignty.  I knew I had to make peace with God’s sovereignty, reject God altogether, or settle for a lesser God who laced the power or desire to prevent the accident….Loss may call the existence of God into question.  Pain seems to conceal him from us, making it hard for us to believe that there could be a God in the midst of our suffering.  In our pain we are tempted to reject God, yet for some reason we hesitate to take that course of action.  So we ponder and pray.  We move toward God, then away from him…We wrestle in our souls to believe.  Finally we choose God, and in the choosing we learn that he has already chose us and has already been drawing us to him…We approach him with hearts that can feel sorrow as well as joy, and wills that can choose against God as well as for him.  We decide to be in a relationship with God.  And then we discover that God, in his sovereignty, ahs already decided to be in a relationship with us. 
(Another great book I read was called Nielse Lyhne by Jens Jacobsen – which follows the life of a young child to his death where sorrow crushed him, and he did not turn to God or walk into the darkness to enter the sunrise after pain…)
Chapter 12:  Life Has the Final Word
He discusses here how death is unavoidable (and pain).  Sometimes I sink into a sadness that makes me think we will never experience life again.  My despondent mood casts a shadow over everything, even on my faith…But then I gain perspective.  I remind myself that suffering is not unique to us.  It is the destiny of humanity.  If this world were the only one there is, then suffering has the final say and all of us are a sorry lot.  But generations of faithful Christians have gone before and will come after, and they have believed or will believe in the depths of my soul.  That Jesus (therefore resurrection, heaven (where God shall wipe away all our tears) is at the center of it all.  Then light gradually dawns once again in my heart, and hope returns.  I find reason and courage to keep going and to continue believing.  Once again my soul increases its capacity for hope as well as for sadness.  I end up believing with greater depth and joy than I had before, even in my sorrow.
Chapter 13: A Community of Brokenness (how we help each other)
Chapter 14: Heritage in a Graveyard
The supreme challenge to anyone facing catastrophic loss (or he defines earlier any loss that is irreversible) involves facing the darkness of the loss on the one hand, and learning to live with renewed vitality and gratitude on the other.  This challenge is met when we learn to take the loss into ourselves and to be enlarged by it, so that our capacity to live life well and to know God intimately increases.  To escape the loss is far less healthy – and far less realistic, considering how devastating loss can be – than to grow from it.  Loss can diminish us, but it can also expand us.  It expands, once again, on the choices we make that the grace we receive.  Loss can function as a catalyst to transform us.  It can lead us to God, the only One who has the desire and power to give us life. 
I have already taken out part of what I knew you would like to read.  I highly recommend this book for you to give those you know that are going through life changing situations that are irreversible and for yourself….for hope and examples when you experience deep pain. …So with the background already sketched in by circumstances beyond my control, I picked up a paintbrush and began, with great hesitation and distress, to paint a new portrait of our lives….Can any person look forward to a life that falls so far short of what he or she had planned, wanted, and expected?  How will we finish our portraits?  What painting will we leave for others in our life that are watching us paint?  It’s a choice where we lay our paintbrush….our willingness to even pick up the brush…to set it in the colors that give light…to find our sunrise.  No matter the darkness….there is a sunrise.  You know as well as I there’s more…There’s always one more scene no matter what.  (Archibald McLeish).  Thank you for letting me type so much for you….I hope you find your sunrise, whatever your story.  Drop one foot to your knees, or look up to the heavens…the sunrise is there.   I hope you can come into the store anytime you need a place to go – we will have the coffee, water, and quiet.  But be careful, you’ll probably leave with a book!  Have a great rest of the week.  Susan
Latin for this week:
minima maxima sunt– The smallest things are most important.
Works Cited:
Frankl, Viktor.  Man’s Search for Meaning.  Boston.  Beacon Press.  2006.
Jacobsen, Jens Peter.  Niels Lyhne.  Whitefish, MT.  2004.






Product Overview

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of those he treated in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory—known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”)—holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

At the time of Frankl’s death in 1997, Man’s Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. A 1991 reader survey by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club that asked readers to name a “book that made a difference in your life” found Man’s Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America.

Born in Vienna in 1905 Viktor E. Frankl earned an M.D. and a Ph.D. from the University of Vienna. He published more than thirty books on theoretical and clinical psychology and served as a visiting professor and lecturer at Harvard, Stanford, and elsewhere. In 1977 a fellow survivor, Joseph Fabry, founded the Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy. Frankl died in 1997.

Harold S. Kushner is rabbi emeritus at Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, and the author of several best-selling books, including When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

William J. Winslade is a philosopher, lawyer, and psychoanalyst at the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston.

Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080701429X
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.6 x 6.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces

Recommended in Susan’s October 22, 2009 Newsletter