Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

Do you ever wonder how you would handle it if you had to go through something truly horrific? Do you ever stop and ask yourself how you would keep yourself going if you faced true hardship? These are fascinating questions, and if one has any sense of humility they have to consider the possibility that they may not make it, because statistically speaking, most people don’t.

Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is something of an interesting mix of books. It is an introduction to a school of psychotherapy called logotherapy (which attempts to deal with people’s psychological issues by focusing on the meaning they give the world around them), but this introduction is framed by a narrative of Frankl’s real experience as a Jew in a world war 2 concentration camp. One wonders how one can find any meaning at all in such horrific circumstances, and that is more or less the point.

I am trying to think back to how it was that I came across this book, and specifically how it was described to me. I think it is likely that it was described to me as a self help book. What I can’t figure out is to what extent I think it is true. I am not sure it is. If this is a self-help book, it is truly among the thinnest, and not terribly helpful (but before you go about thinking this a slight on the book, I have never found any self help book helpful, and I think they are flawed by their nature). What it feels like at best is a pamphlet for Frankl’s logotherapy. You get enough of it to get a taste, but not enough to solve the problems of your life.

The nuts and bolts of logotherapy seem interesting, and the idea behind it makes sense. But I think there is a logistics problem somewhere in it. It may be true that a person with a why can survive any circumstances, but there seems to be a step missing there, Namely, you don’t always get to a why very easily. Just as one cannot will what they will, one cannot just arbitrarily find and have meaning. One either perceives meaning in things around them or they don’t and I don’t think you can just decided to do so at the drop of a hat. When I speak to friends to help them work through depression, a lack of meaning is often central to their malaise, but simply telling them to find meaning somewhere, specifically somewhere where they don’t see it, never actually helps.

I would be lying if I said that there was nothing worth gleaming in this book. There is a lot of good information in here in regard to how to go about finding some kind of happiness or mental stability. But while I think it does have the same flaw of all books in the genre (the non-specifics needed to sell a book to a wide an audience as possible mismatches the specifics of a readers actual problems) I found the way it went about doing this to be the least offensive I have encountered.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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