A few days ago I somehow stumbled upon an article on The Atlantic titled There’s More to Life Than Being Happy. The article introduced me to the writings of Viktor Frankl – a man that survived the Nazi concentration camps and eventually became a world renown psychiatrist. One of his key ideas is that happiness should not be the thing that drives a person. Instead, a person should be driven by a purpose. After reading this article, I picked up Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, which he wrote in a few weeks shortly after being liberated from the concentration camp.
To start off, Frankl’s story is amazing. The Holocaust is maybe the one topic that always shocks me every time I learn more about it, whether if that’s in a book, a program on TV, or visiting a museum. The stories that really have an impact on me are those where people overcame horrific conditions and cruelty (e.g. Anne Frank, Corrie Ten Boom, Oskar Schindler, Viktor Frankl). There seems to be some profound insights into human nature by how these people overcame these conditions. Frankl is a great example. Although there was a definite element of luck to his survival, Frankl’s perseverance was based on an underlying purpose for his life. That may be the drive to get back to loved ones, to finish an uncompleted work, etc. Frankl talks about how many prisoners lost that purpose and consequently lost the motivation and drive to overcome the horrific conditions in the concentration camps.
I wonder if Rick Warren referenced Frankl’s work in his book the Purpose Driven Life as the title seems a perfect fit for Frankl’s story and underlying philosophy. (I’m not sure as I haven’t read Warren’s book although I know of its popularity). Frankl’s purpose driven philosophy and the corresponding psychotherapy is known as logotherapy.
The book is a great read. Frankl’s autobiographical story is amazing, yet I’ll remember this book for his philosophy. I feel like every page contains an awesome quote. Here are a few of the quotes I highlighted as reading through the book:
You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
The salvation of man is through love and in love.
Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become.
I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, “homeostasis,” i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.
Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.
[Decent people] form a minority. More than that, they always will remain a minority. And yet I see therein the very challenge to join the minority. For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.
I highlighted my favorite of these quotes. It eloquently states one of my typical mental states – that I should be better, that I’m underachieving in the important areas of life – love and charity. I feel like this is a book I should read again. It has an amazing story and contains some profound truths. My rating is 5/5.