I just finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning, a book that was published in 1946. I had never read non fiction books before I got my hands on this book. I picked it up because it had great ratings and everyone was talking about how it changed their lives. Also, the cover of the book was fantastic and meaningful. Somehow it spoke to me since I’m going through the toughest phase of my life. So, I decided to order it.
Man’s Search for Meaning, as the name suggests is a psychology / spiritual / self-help book written by Dr. Viktor Frankl. The title of the book will certainly put some people off since it sounds like a long boring lecture about the meaning of life. It sounds self-indulgent and pretentious. But if you are not one of those souls and want to read it then let me tell you that it is very dark and there isn’t even the faintest clue of humour anywhere. The book is divided in two parts.
The first part is the survival story of Victor Frankl in the deathly Nazi camps. This book is a memoir of his horrifying experiences of World War II when the Jews were being killed and tortured. Each day, they were living under the haunting thought of being sent to Gas Chambers, where every last inch of their skin and bones would be turned into ashes.
In the book, he writes about how he lost everything he once held dear and was taken from one concentration camp to another (including Auschwitz and Dachau). He witnessed the cruelty of humans in those camps. He noticed how people suffered and were put to extreme torture by the Nazis and how the Nazis enjoyed doing that. He saw the dark side of humans and what they were capable of. We know what happened in German concentration camps (thanks to thousands of films and books dedicated to World War II) but Frankl’s recollection of the memories of the Holocaust is still able to send chills through your bones. If you want to know how deadly living in those camps was, here’s an excerpt from the book.
A little background first-Frankl writes that one night, one of his inmates was having a nightmare, Frankl wanted to wake him up but he didn’t. He thought:
“No dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him”
This is how terrifying the camps were. After spending some time in the camp, Frankl started noticing people around him. Some people gave up to the situation and died (they smoked the last of their cigarettes because they knew they were going to die anyway). Frankl writes that most of those poor souls did not die because of the pain they were going through. They died because the faint hope they were hiding somewhere in the depths of their hearts, had vanished. They didn’t feel like they had a reason to live and succumbed to the situation. However, there were some who took it as a challenge and rose above it. They decided to give their suffering a meaning and emerged victorious in the end. They knew their suffering was not in vain. They believed that they had a reason to live. Some of them hoped that one day they would meet their families and some thought about other things. Frankl noticed everything and the used the same approach to give some comfort to his inmates when they were having a really tough time.
Frankl himself often dreamed about his deceased Wife, he talked to her in his dreams and it was his escape from the reality. It gave his suffering a meaning. He found solace in the memories of his dead wife. He also thought about completing the manuscript he had lost. It gave him a Why to live for. Many a time in the book, he quotes Nietzsche:
“He, who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How”
This is the crux of the book. It is a reminder of how hope is the most powerful weapon humans possess. Frankl writes about the unbeatable human spirit which has the power to endure even the harshest of conditions. He believes that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose to live with it by giving it a meaning. Giving meaning to suffering can rejuvenate one’s hopes and spirits.
The second part of the book is about Logotherepy, a method Frankl used to cure his patients. I won’t go into the details of logo-therapy. You can read the book to know more about it. I didn’t fully understand it since I am not a Psychology student but I got the meaning anyway.
I would strongly suggest you to read this book if you are feeling down, depressed and lost. It can help you feel better and I am saying this from personal experience. I mean think about it. Are you going through the same pain that those Jews were going through? Is your suffering more painful than those poor souls whose daily food was a bowl of watery soup and hundreds of whips? The answer is NO. So whatever you are going through, remember that you will be fine if you cling onto hope amidst the suffering. The night is darkest before the dawn. So, a bright day shall come soon. Now I’d like to end this post by quoting Frankl.
“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”