Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning By Viktor E. Frankl‎

Rating: 3 out of 3.

Wether you have already read it or not, now is the perfect time to read this book.

Dr Frankl talks about his experience in concentration camps and elaborates on the school of thought that he founded: logotherapy.

If you, like me, are new to logotherapy, here is what it means: logos is Greek for “meaning” and and therapy can be defined as treatment of a condition or maladjustment.

While I definitely agree that the horrors and experiences lived in concentration camps cannot even compare to this fight against coronavirus, there are observations and learnings that can be extrapolated to understand human behaviour during this crisis.

In this book the reader discovers how in the worst of circumstances some men were able to find something that motivated them to not give up and choose life. They didn’t know when the war would finish, let alone if they would survive the camp itself. But those prisoners had higher chances of surviving as a result of their spirituality and that is because spiritual freedom cannot be taken away and this can make life meaningful and purposeful, worth fighting for.

He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how – Nietzsche

The lockdown and not knowing when we will resume our lives have put many people worldwide in an indefinite provisional situation. Such situation does not allow to plan for the future or have anything to look forward to. And this is crucial for human beings.

The author mentions three ways for finding meaning in life:

  1. Creating a work or doing a deed
  2. Experiencing something or encountering someone
  3. The attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering

When we don’t know when something may end, minutes feel like hours, we feel bored and sometimes it can appear to be painful. If we don’t find a meaning for such suffering we are at risk of believing that life is meaningless, empty and go down the road of nihilism.

When this book was published in 1946, the author already made the observation that people have enough to live by but not enough to live for. And this still remains true today. Measuring success in life by how much money you have in the bank, how many things you have, how much you can produce or how useful you are to society drive people away from spirituality, mindfulness and finding meaning in their lives.

With this global pandemic, many of us have lost our jobs and feel useless to society. Good news is that this doesn’t need to be a self fulfilling prophecy. We all have the potential to do good or bad but how we act depends on our decisions, not the uncontrollable, external conditions.

This book provides real life examples showing that we have the power within us to creatively change the situation that is causing our suffering, change ourselves, take responsible action and turn suffering into an achievement. We all have the freedom to change at any instant, raise above the external conditions and change the world and ourselves for the better, if necessary.

Man’s Search for Meaning has several case studies of patients who suffered anticipatory anxiety. This is when a person has a symptom in response to a phobia that triggers the symptom which then reinforces the phobia. Can you see how this dangerous vicious circle can turn into traps we make for ourselves? And how can we stop this negative loop?

The fear is mother to the event – Viktor Frankl

Paradoxical intention is one of the techniques explained by Dr Frankl in his book. It consists on ridiculing the anticipatory anxiety. Take that symptom or phobia and turn it into a caricature, a parody. Laugh at it. This is proven to help reduce anticipatory anxiety. You can use it to put some distance from your problem and maybe then you’ll find a way to look at your suffering from a different perspective, allowing you to find meaning and take action.

There is a maxim for logotherapy: live as if you were living already for your second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.

So, what are you going to do now?

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