Brady F. Anderson

Man’s Search for Meaning

My Notes

Freud claimed we lived for the pursuit of pleasure. Alfred Adler believed we lived to chase power. Frankl claims we live to pursue the quest for meaning.

We find meaning in three ways: doing something significant, in love for others, and acting with courage despite difficult circumstances.

If we have the freedom to choose our response to the world around us, we always have something to cling to. A reason for living.

“For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued: it must ensue” Surrender yourself to another or a cause beyond yourself, the personal aim you seek will be a byproduct of this.

As a survivor of concentration camps, Frankl says that the best did not return. They sacrificed themselves for others, often with their lives.

Frankl often thought of Dostoevsky. He agreed that man can get used to anything but won’t be able to explain how.

The moment that sticks with me most: “In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment” This came when thinking of his wife while trudging on a march through miles in the snow. He noticed how beautiful the sunrise and landscape were around him, and the image of his wife still showed more brightly than anything.

“I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing – which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person beloved. Whether or not she is actually present, whether or not she is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance”

The minds of prisoners often wandered to the past, such as this moment: “In my mind, I took bus rides, unlocked the front door of my apartment, answered my telephone, switched on the electric lights. Our thoughts often centered on such details, and these memories could move one to tears” Escaping into the past glorifies experiences we don’t often expect. What is the rhyme and reason to what we give import? Are we the ones creating that import? Thinking about how you will look back on your life will always have this glaring inaccuracy, that the details, the small moments, matter so much. Little details such as running into your work hut to get the men outside to watch the sunset, where one remarked “How beautiful the world could be?”

“Humor was another weapon in the soul’s fight for self-preservation” Seeing things in a humorous light is part of mastering the art of living

Suffering is like gas; it expands to fill any space it can fit. Make the space in your mind and heart small for suffering.

Many pleasures are just freedom from suffering

Inmates began to fear making decisions. The feeling was that fate was master, and how could it have felt anything but that was when your existence depended upon which side you walked toward off a train?

Frankl had the opportunity to escape but choose to stay with his typhoid patients. His unhappiness subsided after making that choice.

“They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that 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”

“There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings” – Dostoevsky. To be worthy is a freedom that cannot be taken away.

Your attitude toward your existence is a source of meaning and purpose beyond creation and enjoyment.

Frankly once saw a letter from a young man who was going to die. He explained how he had seen a man meet death with courage and dignity in a movie. He now said that fate was giving him his chance to have that kind of accomplishment.

Frankl found that to do any psychotherapy in the camps, he needed to give him a future goal he could look forward to.

We ask life for its meaning rather than consider what life asks of us. How do you answer?

Tension is a prerequisite for mental health. The gap between what you have done and what you should do and who you are today and who you will become is a kind of tension that gives us meaning.

Existential crises arise out of boredom.

A story I think about often: A friend visited Frankl who was battling depression. The man’s wife had died two years prior. Frankl asked what she would have experienced if he had died first. The man responded she would have suffered. Frankl pointed out that by surviving her, the man spared this suffering for her, and the man found peace.