What an extraordinary book full of profound advice on living, our perceptions on life, and the choices we make in reacting to them. To get caught up in our own thoughts and feelings, allowing the storylines to spiral us out of control is a common occurrence for many of us. We all lead busy lives and deal with the day-to-day pressures of raising families, commuting to work, and trying to make our way in the world. It is therefore a sobering experience to read someone like Viktor Frankl, describe his own experiences in concentration camps, and provide an outlook on life that makes many of our petty squabbles fall away. Man’s Search for Meaning is Viktor’s own experiences steeped in his knowledge as a psychiatrist and aim to bring more meaning to our own lives.
To experience something so horrific in life and be able to reflect on the positive aspects of the human condition is incredible:
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
It places perspective in our own lives reflecting on our own troubles relative to what Viktor may have gone through. None of our own troubles are small and yet there is an affirming realization that perhaps we are putting too much emphasis on the negative aspects in our own life and not looking at the positives enough. One of the goals of mindfulness is to bring attention to the ways in which we react to emotions, both positive and negative. Being the observer in both cases to see how we react. Statements like the one above really strike at the heart of breaking through those negative emotions and allowing us to see more clearly what we are reacting too.
Viktor’s experiences led him to believe, not that hatred existed in all people, but that in fact love was present and meaning in his own life was finding that love:
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.”
To choose to live, and believe in this, given the conditions that Viktor was exposed too encourages anyone who has read this book that we are all a product of our own choices. We, at the end of every day, have the choice on how we choose to look at the negativity in our own life tomorrow. It reminded me of The Art of Possibility, a book I’ve reflected on previously, and the idea of choice. So much possibility exists when we choose to act and choose to take a positive outlook on life.
When you read Viktor’s feelings on love, contrasted against the bleakness of those around him, it’s inspiring. He captures that bleakness in moments like this:
“Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, “I have nothing to expect from life any more.” What sort of answer can one give to that?“
The story itself comes in at 70-80 pages and yet upon re-reading I found myself encountering new truths and thoughts that made me sit back and think. This is the type of book that should sit on everyone’s bookshelf to be revisited once every year or two allowing us to center our own perspective again. I’m thankful for having found this book and have read it now as it has escaped my knowledge for so long.
I’d leave you with the thought that Viktor survived in a concentration camp through a combination of luck, resilience, and a fundamental attitude of positivity in people and in life. It shifts perspective in our own lives and perhaps allows us to realize that those things we are clinging too are truly not worthy of our attention.
Be sure to check out reflections on Possibility and the choices we have as highlighted in Rosamund Stone and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.
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