This week, Life Training Online is reviewing Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl, the thirteenth of fifty-two books in the 52 Personal Development Books in 52 Weeks series.

After continual questions from his readers about his form of psychology called “Logotherapy”, Frankl responded by writing the second part of his book, “Logotherapy in a Nutshell”, in the 1962 edition. The third part, “The case for a tragic optimism”, was first introduced in the 1984 edition. While the first part of the book relates his harrowing experiences in the concentration camps, Frankl uses the second and third parts of the book to lead the reader on a journey into the more intellectual implications of his story.

A Life of Meaning and Logotherapy

Logotherapy — sometimes called the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy — focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as one’s search for that meaning. In contrast to Freud’s psychoanalysis (the will to pleasure) and Adlerian psychology (the will to power), Logotherapy deals with the will to meaning — Frankl believing this to be the prime motivating force in all human beings.

In general, Frankl disagreed with Freud and Adler, stating that the purpose of life is not simply to satisfy one’s drives and instincts, but in learning how to close the gap between what we are and what we can become. It’s finding the source of meaning.

The Three Sources of Meaning

The modern person, according to Frankl, has almost too much freedom. Because of this, we have a difficult time finding our purpose in life. This “existential vacuum” creates a frustrated search for purpose which is temporarily compensated for in the urge for money, sex, entertainment, even violence.

Ultimately, it’s in one of these three sources where one will find meaning in their life:

  1. Creating a work or doing a deed:

    This is what many self-help authors commonly refer to as your “life purpose.” Happiness thus comes not in seeking it out but by engaging ourselves in a task that requires all of our imagination and talents.

  2. Experience something or encountering someone:

    Experience (both inner and outer), creates a worthy alternative to “success.” This search for beauty, goodness, and truth through nature, culture, or another person, provides meaning in life.

  3. The attitude we take to unavoidable suffering:

    Lastly, suffering which we cannot control, can be a source of meaning. Frankl does admit that we may never know the meaning behind our suffering, or maybe not until much later in life. But just because we cannot understand the reason behind our suffering, doesn’t mean there is none.

Man’s Search for Meaning is the thirteenth of fifty-two books in Life Training – Online’s series 52 Personal Development Books in 52 Weeks.

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