Book Thoughts: Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning is a 1946 psychology book by Victor E. Frankl. The original intent of the book was to be a resource for psychologists on what went through the minds of Nazi concentration camp prisoners. In later editions, Victor added a second part, again for psychologists, that described how his own concentration camp experiences had helped him create his “logotherapy” form of psychotherapy. Despite being written for psychologists, Man’s Search for Meaning has become more of an inspirational book in the present time. In particular, Victor held many views that are in line with Catholic teaching, so it has become very popular in religious studies and among laypeople.

From the Catholic perspective, I found two key points that really supported each other. Victor Frankl himself had to go through life in a Nazi concentration camp as a Jewish prisoner, so he had many firsthand experiences he could draw on. He stumbled across a discovery early on when he saw that most of the prisoners that lasted had some reason to live. Some of them had hopes of seeing a loved one after the war. Others believed in a religion of some sort. There were many other examples given. In every example, the prisoners with meaning in their life survived the longest or even made it out alive.

The second key point Victor discovered is that suffering in itself had no meaning. However, if someone had a reason to live, some loved one to see or goal to see through, then suffering did have meaning. After all, only if they survived, pushed through all their suffering, could they see their loved one or reach their goal. Victor Frankl was very clear that people need meaning in their lives. Without meaning, they slowly dwindle until they die from lethargy or suicide.

If these two key points are believed, then the key question every person needs to answer is “What is the meaning of your life?”. For Catholics, the answer is, in short, to glorify God and sanctify souls. In simpler terms this is to love God and one another. From there it is easy to see why we bear our sufferings. We need to survive to continue loving God and one another. To give up is to discard the precious time God has given us to serve others. Catholics also believe that when we suffer we are sharing in the suffering of Christ. Sharing in this way mysteriously aids the salvation of others. Back to the key points though, without a belief in the Catholic faith, our suffering really would be meaningless. It is only through our faith, that we don’t despair over suffering (or at least try).

Man’s Search for Meaning was a pretty good book for me because I am suffering quite a bit these days. I have some hope of feeling better, but I still have to acknowledge that I may never get much better. I serve God through my prayer and by attending mass once a week. Since I can’t serve others much in person, I do my best to serve others through the Internet. These things give my life meaning, giving me the strength to bear my sufferings. I don’t always bear them happily, but I never give up living. I am not done with Man’s Search for Meaning. I would like to analyze it in more detail, maybe summarize the wisdom contained in the book on this website.

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