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Recommended Reading: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

One of the silverlinings of being unable to work for the last number of weeks has been that I have had the opportunity to catch up on some reading, I had been looking forward to for a long time. The first of these books that I read during my lay off and the one that has had the most profound effect on me by far was ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl. This book was recommended to me by my friend and colleague Gareth McShea ages ago and after reading it I’m sorry I left it so long to read it. However it proved to be an ideal read during a period of recovery after an illness.
Some background, Frankl was an Austrian Psychiatrist that endured the concentration camps of World War II and relays his experience of what the prisoners suffered and the lessons he learned from the experience. He explains how he used his experience to help many clients and readers the world over after he was released.
As strange as it sounds, this book about a concentration camp survivor is weirdly uplifting. While you spend a lot of the book in shock and horror at what the captives suffered. I was also left in awe at how even during the darkest of times Viktor and his ‘comrades’ found humour and joy at different periods during their captivity.
Without getting too deep into it the main messages I took out of the book were:
  • Even during our darkest times we always have the freedom to choose how we react to our circumstances, this can never be taken away from us
  • Expectations can be dangerous, when we build up and expectation of what the future may hold we are setting ourselves up for potential failure
  • While we may lose our health, possessions and all that we hold dear, our actions and how we conduct ourselves through it is something that nobody can remove
  • With the freedom we enjoy to live our lives, comes a great responsibility to live a life we can look back on and be proud of
  • The greatest of successes may not be found in winning lots of trophies or gaining admiration but facing up to tough situations with dignity and courage


Have a read through some of my favourite highlights from the book:

As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before.

The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living.

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.

Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.

I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.

every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.

Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.

What he becomes—within the limits of endowment and environment—he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.

And doesn’t this final meaning, too, depend on whether or not the potential meaning of each single situation has been actualized to the best of the respective individual’s knowledge and belief?

study the lives of people who seem to have found their answers to the questions of what ultimately human life is about as against those who have not.”

those held in highest esteem by most of the people interviewed are neither the great artists nor the great scientists, neither the great statesmen nor the great sports figures, but those who master a hard lot with their heads held high.

Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.

My interest does not lie in raising parrots that just rehash “their master’s voice,” but rather in passing the torch to “independent and inventive, innovative and creative spirits.”

“It is we ourselves who must answer the questions that life asks of us, and to these questions we can respond only by being responsible for our existence.”


All the best,