Introduction to Man's Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning was first published in German in 1946, just one year after the end of World War II and the liberation of its author, psychologist Viktor Emil Frankl, from a Nazi concentration camp. With its exhortation to each individual to find the meaning in their life, Frankl’s combined memoir and psychological treatise—first translated into English in 1959—has become one of the most influential books of the twentieth century.

Frankl’s book consists of two long essays and a short postscript, added in 1984. The first essay, “Experiences in a Concentration Camp,” details the author’s imprisonment in several different camps during the war, focusing in particular on how finding meaning in even the most dire of circumstances allowed him and others to survive. The second essay, “Logotherapy in a Nutshell,” describes the basic principles of Frankl’s meaning-centered therapeutic practice. In the postscript, “The Case for a Tragic Optimism,” Frankl advocates for the necessity of “saying yes to life in spite of everything.”

Frequently Asked Questions about Man's Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning

A capo was a prisoner chosen by the SS officers to be directly in charge of a group of prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps. They were an intermediary between the guards and the other...

Latest answer posted February 15, 2021, 11:49 am (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Between stimulus and response, Frankl says,...

Latest answer posted February 15, 2021, 12:39 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl shares three core beliefs throughout the text. First, individuals are driven by a desire for meaning as opposed to merely pleasure or power. When...

Latest answer posted February 15, 2021, 3:37 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

At one point in Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl claims that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast of the United States should be complemented by a Statue of Responsibility: Freedom,...

Latest answer posted February 15, 2021, 12:09 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl writes in Man's Search for Meaning that there are three ways in which one can find meaning in life. The first is to do work that is meaningful in itself or creates something...

Latest answer posted February 15, 2021, 4:47 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

One of the most important differences between Frankl's logotherapy and Freud's psychoanalytic method is Frankl's rejection of the pleasure principle as a major motivating force. Freud thought that...

Latest answer posted February 14, 2021, 12:20 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl cautions against taking an abstract approach to meaning in life. He does not think that it is possible to find a general, universally applicable meaning...

Latest answer posted February 14, 2021, 11:54 am (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl observes that most people think a good life is one devoid of suffering. After all, most people do all they can to avoid discomfort, distress, uncertainty, and pain. Some even go as...

Latest answer posted February 14, 2021, 11:49 am (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

As a psychologist and concentration camp survivor, Frankl writes his book to try to answer this question: How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average...

Latest answer posted February 14, 2021, 2:04 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl argues that the one freedom all people have at any time is the liberty to choose how to respond to a situation, no matter how dire that situation may be....

Latest answer posted February 14, 2021, 12:22 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl says that people should not keep asking what the meaning of their life is or what the meaning of life is more generally. Instead, they should act as...

Latest answer posted February 14, 2021, 3:08 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

Frankl is very clear that survival in the camps was based primarily on luck. Most people who entered the camps died. There was little rhyme or reason in the camps, which meant that anybody, no...

Latest answer posted February 14, 2021, 12:29 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

While influenced in part by Freudian psychoanalysis, Viktor Frankl's logotherapy is quite distinct from it as well. Firstly, Frankl claims that psychoanalysis focuses on the past, while logotherapy...

Latest answer posted February 14, 2021, 12:04 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

Frankl speaks introspectively and at length about the human limitations of life in concentration camps. He learned that limits came both from the constrained world of the camps and, paradoxically,...

Latest answer posted February 15, 2021, 1:16 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

Suffering for Frankl is a kind of spiritual challenge. He quotes Dostoevsky to this effect, who said the following: "There is only one thing I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings." With him,...

Latest answer posted February 14, 2021, 1:31 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

The whole time he was imprisoned in concentration camps, Frankl thought about his beloved wife. He writes that nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my...

Latest answer posted February 13, 2021, 12:31 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

In Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl makes several claims about happiness. The most significant is that happiness is secondary to meaning. He writes that, in American culture, one is constantly...

Latest answer posted February 13, 2021, 1:39 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

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...

Latest answer posted February 13, 2021, 12:08 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

Logotherapy is a psychotherapeutic method rooted in existentialist thought. It is a system grounded in the idea that people want to assign meaning to their lives and that a great deal of suffering...

Latest answer posted February 13, 2021, 12:42 pm (UTC)

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Man's Search for Meaning

Frankl says the meaning of life lies in finding the "right answer" to the problems of life. Since everyone has different problems, the actual "meaning" is different for everyone, but the common...

Latest answer posted February 13, 2021, 1:26 pm (UTC)

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