Man’s Search For Meaning: A Little Book With A Big Impact

“Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake”

man's search for meaning

Confession: about two years ago, I finished university and was feeling a little lost. I picked up this highly recommended book and found myself feeling a little less out-of-place in the world when I was done. To say that it was helpful to me would be a massive understatement. I decided recently that I could do with that kind of boost again, so returned to it and felt like it had even more to offer.

“Now, in logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear.”

Though this is an impossible book to review, I thought it might be a valuable experience to share some of the lessons I learnt while reading it. For a little background, this book is split into two halves- the first being Frankl’s experience in the Holocaust and the second half being how to utilise his practice of Logotherapy to find meaning in life. But do not let that quick synopsis mislead you- this is not a despairing work- there is no book more uplifting on the planet. So without further ado, here are some of the things that struck me this time round:

“Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire”

  • You must have a future or you will not have a present. There is a lot about the importance of hope in this book. Frankl talks on more than one occasion about how the loss of life in the camps frequently came down to people losing hope. One of Frankl’s most vivid messages is to hold onto the idea of love- not just the person, but the emotion. Love is integral to his message of hope for the future. For what is love if it is not the embodiment of hope?

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

  • Meaning comes from struggle. Frankl speaks of the existential vacuum that arises from having too easy a life. For me, this speaks of how boredom is bad for the soul. While people may desire a constant state of rest, it’s like wood wanting a lower energy state- if you burn it to ash it loses all potential. There is no real value in having nothing to strive for.

“if pain and suffering is avoidable, then avoid it!”

  • But for goodness sake- don’t go looking for trouble! To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic not heroic.

“Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”

  • Life cannot be meaningful without responsibility. It is very tempting to lay responsibility elsewhere and a lot of people when faced with a struggle cannot take responsibility for their own suffering or refuse to try and fix it themselves. This is a mistake. If personal growth is found in struggling, then to pass the responsibility off somewhere else will make one’s life very meaningless indeed. Therefore, everyone is “responsible to society or his own conscience”.

“Man has potential to be swine or saint, monster or martyr”

  • Resentment won’t get you anywhere. There is an incredible part of the book when Frankl rejects the idea of collective guilt. It shows how important it is not to hold people accountable for crimes they did not commit. And if a holocaust survivor can reject the idea of “guilt by association”, it proves that there is never any justice in it. I also felt like there was a really clear illustration of the deep-seated resentment that drove the Nazis in a story Frankl tells about how a guard beat him when Frankl says he had been a therapist for poor people before the war- when confronted with someone who had done such fulfilling work with their life, an Auschwitz guard has no other options but to beat the prisoner, because how else can he be reconciled with himself? (incidentally proving Dr Jordan Peterson’s theory about resentment of being lying at the root of much of the world’s evil) Someone filled with so much darkness can only try to snuff out what remains of the light

“saying yes to life in spite of everything”

  • And lastly… don’t take yourself too seriously! Frankl describes how one cure for neurosis is for the patient to learn to laugh at themselves. But this can be applied more broadly- especially since he talks about how people relied on humour to get through Auschwitz. And what is a better target for humour than ourselves?

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Alright, this post was a little different, but I hoped you liked it.

Of course, it goes without saying that this book gets 5/5 bananas:

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Have you read this book? Do you feel inspired to give it a go? Let me know in the comments!

Top 10 Books of 2015

Welcome- and happy almost New Year! This year has been a crazy one for reading- I’ve read an insane 95 books (*say what?!?*) Amongst this windfall there have been too many terrible stinkers, a lot of YA romance for some reason (I’m thinking finishing my degree and wanting to unwind was a huge factor in that), a fair amount of fantasy, fewer classics than usual and some really incredible books! This list is dedicated to those incredible books that just lit me up from the inside out, made me laugh and had me weeping buckets.

I tried to put this in order, but let’s face it, when you’re choosing between two books you love it’s nigh on impossible to choose which one you love more. I mean- how do you measure that- by number of squeals or something? So in no particular order, I present to you, my top ten books of 2015:

1. peter pan

peter pan and wendy

Yup- I finally (re)read this- and yup, it was amazing.

1. liars

we were liars

It was the first book I read in 2015 and boy was it a great way to start the year. I haven’t mentioned it much on this blog yet, mostly because I feel like anything I say about it will be spoilery, but it was well worth reading. All I’ll say other than that is the prose was beautiful!

3. final empire.png

final-empire

I was going to say The Shadow of What Was Lost but according to my goodreads, I finished that on New Year’s Eve in 2014, so to fill that fantasy void, I’m gonna say The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. Which is a brilliant book anyway and probably would’ve made it onto the list regardless.

4. throne of glass

Throne_of_Glass_UK

And by that I mean the whole series. I know, I know, I’m kind of cheating, but to be honest I could put any of them on the list, so I don’t want to take up room, and I did read all of them in 2015. I always cheat in book lists anyway, so why should this be any different?

5. young elite

the young elites

I read this fairly recently, but it definitely makes it onto the list! It was a close call between this and the The Red Queen but this one *just* edged it out, because I loved it just a little bit more. Not that it was an easy decision to make- and I’m kind of thinking of changing my mind… See what I mean about choosing between two favourites! It’s just so hard! Ughh- they should both be on the list really. (Also, I’m counting this with The Rose Society cos, hello, I just said I’m a cheater)

6. darker shade

a darker shade of magic

What can I say other than that this was spectacular?

7. Vicious

vicious

Yes, I know V E Schwab was already on the list- but I can’t help it if she’s an incredible author. She just *deserves* two spaces on the list. I *love* the main character in this book and the plot is sensational and so clever! I go through phases with books, and right now this one has edged out A Darker Shade of Magic as my favourite book by V.E.Schwab- *so far*- cos let’s face it, I’m going to be reading loads more of her books in the future!

8. Memoirs of Geisha

memoirs of a geisha

This book came at exactly the right moment for me- I can’t really explain why. I’ve not read a more beautiful book in a really long time. It made a lasting impression and I’m certain I’m going to remember it for a really long time.

9. carry on

carry on

I loved this book so much and I’m glad I still had space on the list for it- heck, let’s face it, I made space for it! Check out my ten reasons to read it here

10. man's

man's search for meaning

This book was non-fiction, but it had to make it onto the list. Because it is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve ever read. It articulated so many feelings I have about the world, to the point where I’ve gotten lazy when I answer questions about my philosophy on life, because I basically just say now: “go read Man’s  Search For Meaning- he puts it so much better than I ever could”. It’s deep, it’s meaningful and it feels like it soccer-punched my soul at some points. So go read it.

There you have it- those were my favourite reads of 2015. Did any of these make it onto your top ten? Let me know in the comment section below.