In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a psychotherapist and survivor of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps during the second world war explains his understanding of the meaning of life.
You could be excused for believing that this book written six decades ago may not hold much relevance to today's world, however personally I have found this book both fascinating and enlightening and it has definitely deepened my understanding of this topic.
Dr Frankl describes, in tremendously vivid detail, the horrors of his experiences along with millions of others during the second world war and then uses those experiences to explain his theory of logotherapy. He puts forward in this theory that the main driving force of Mankind is to live a life of meaning and usefulness rather than search for fame, wealth or happiness. It is this perceived lack of meaning that is the root cause for a significant proportion of our population suffering with depression and lack of motivation. According to Dr Frankl there are three predominant methods for finding meaning in your life:
1) Doing work of some kind to make a visible difference to others or the world around you.
2) Experiencing things (such as art, culture or love).
3) Rising above suffering with dignity.
The first two are easy to grasp quickly but finding meaning in suffering may take a bit more thought. When described by Dr Frankl in relation to how only 3% of those unfortunate enough to enter nazi concentration camps survived it starts to make more sense. He discusses how it wasn't the physically tough individuals who survived but rather those with mental fortitude and in particular those who had something to fight for.
"One must have a reason to be happy but once that reason is found however happiness comes automatically."
Suffering may cease to be suffering as long as a deeper meaning is attached to it.
One part of the book that truly gripped me was the part in which Dr Frankl discusses the problems others encounter when they try to describe an overarching meaning of life in a nice concise statement. For example the way that Simon Sinek recommends you "Find your Why". He argues that this isn't truly possible until a life has actually come to an end. He uses the analogy of understanding the meaning of a film:
This has helped me to realise that my “Why” as described by Simon Sinek is not my life’s meaning, but it is rather one tool that I'm currently using to make sure that my life is meaningful. I don't think this in any way denigrates or undermines the message put across by the concept of Start with Why but it just puts into context that we should approach our "meaning of life" more as a thought process relating to each and every moment contained in our life rather than setting out a vision we wish to accomplish. This vision may turn out to be short sighted with the benefit of further experience.
I must admit that I found the latter section of the book, which is full of deep philosophical questions, to be quite mentally taxing. I have however come to realise that actually I quite enjoyed the philosophy in this book which I have never really considered before and I think I have also come to the realisation that I now could quite enjoy History which is a topic that never caught my attention when I was at school.
If you are interested in delving into the topic of finding meaning in your life I would probably suggest you consider first the texts of "Start with Why" or "Life on Purpose" or "Peak Performance" purely because they may be more accessible to more people at this time. However if you have either read any of those already or do you have an interest in historical text as well then "Man's Search for Meaning" could also be for you. And I would especially suggest you listen to the audiobook version on audible as the narration of it really does bring it to life. Follow this link for either option: https://amzn.to/2HXnn9d
Dr Chris Harper