What are the three main avenues for reaching meaning in life?

In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl argues that love, work, and courage in the face of suffering are the three main avenues for meaning.

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In the second section of Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl argues that people cannot be satisfied with a "tensionless state." They must be striving for something in their daily lives. Such striving gives each and every day meaning. For Frankl, there are three paths to living a meaningful life.

The first avenue to meaning is love. Frankl does not define love as an erotic passion but as a transforming force. He argues that through genuine love, people are able to see others clearly and inspire them to actualize themselves. Love also inspires people to be less selfish:

The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.

The second avenue to meaning is work. Frankl felt that this path was most "obvious" to the most people. He himself thought about his psychological work while in the camps. He kept himself going by thinking about how he could turn his experiences into a book.

Lastly and perhaps most significantly, meaning can also be found in overcoming unavoidable suffering. Frankl finds that even in hopeless circumstances, such as being imprisoned in a death camp or dying from a terminal illness, people can still find meaning through courage and inner strength. Early in the book, Frankl references the case of an elderly man grieving the death of his wife. His suffering is unbearable. However, Frankl asks him how his wife might have felt had he died first. When the widower replies that it would have been terrible for her, Frankl suggests he find satisfaction that it is he who has taken up the emotional pain his wife would have experienced had she outlived him. Such a viewpoint makes the pain involved meaningful rather than absurd or arbitrary.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 24, 2021
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