Viktor Frankl was one of the most prominent figures in the history of psychology. Frankl approached the treatment of mental disorders from an existentialist perspective that decades later served to strengthen a movement known as humanistic psychology.
He is well known for writing the book Man's Search for Meaning, published after the Holocaust. This book is introspective, tough, and beautiful. It has served as a source of inspiration to many people and addresses an important theme in everyone's lives: the search for meaning.
Why do we go on when we are exhausted and can't move forwards? What drives us to live and die for our beliefs?
We can say that he was one of the precursors of modern self-improvement books. Let's review his life and work.
A difficult life
The story of Frankl is a tough and challenging one. He was a Holocaust survivor who lost several loved ones along the way. In 1942, he was sent to several concentration camps, including Auschwitz. His family, including his wife, died in extermination camps, and Frankl had to work as a slave until the camp that imprisoned him was liberated in 1945.
Even so, after so much suffering, Frankl went on and didn't give up. Was it the adrenaline? The basic survival instinct? Or was it something deeper that kept him going?
After the war ended, Viktor Frankl discovered that many of his loved ones had died. Even then, he managed to cope with these losses. According to him, just discovering the meaning of suffering makes the experience of suffering much more bearable, incorporating it into each one's own life story as another element.
This idea, which matches to a large extent the principles of the existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and other thinkers, was embodied by Viktor Frankl in his best-known work: Man's Search for Meaning. Published in 1946, it is also a book that serves as an introduction to logotherapy.
"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." --Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl's best-known work, Man's Search for Meaning, incorporated this idea, which matched to a considerable part the principles of the existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and other writers. It is also a book that acts as an introduction to logotherapy, having been published in 1946.
Logotherapy is a less retrospective and introspective method than psychoanalysis, which Frankl had criticized beforehand. Logotherapy looks to the future, to the possibility of elaborating goals and objectives. The human being has the ability of self-development and must take advantage of it.
Viktor Frankl believed that Freud had interpreted man from beneath, attributing excessive importance to the instinctive. In his opinion, it was necessary to look at the human being from above. Only then would we understand that psychic activities are the essence of our nature.
Frankl learned from Max Scheler that man is not bound by the impulses and influence of the environment. Since humans are intelligent beings, they can move by intentions, developing empathy towards their fellow creatures and respect or sympathy towards the rest of the living beings. If we could not transcend the biological and social, we would be mere automatons.
"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." -- Viktor Frankl
Logotherapy considers that the primary motivation of the human being is not the search for pleasure or power but the will for meaning. The search for meaning is not a sublimation of instinct but something primary. Frankl points out that people live and die for their ideals and principles. The task of logotherapy is to help patients find meaning in life.
Searching for meaning
The meaning of life is finding a purpose and taking responsibility for ourselves and other people. We will be able to tackle all of the hows if we have a clear why. Only by feeling free and certain of the goal that drives us will we be able to transform and build a far more noble world; only by knowing why will we be able to succeed and overcome barriers.
There is no more difficult question than what is the meaning of life. Because this question can have philosophical, transcendental, and even moral aspects, we tend to keep to the standard designations. We say things like I want to be happy, I want to be content, I want to do good, and so on.
When confronted with this recurrent question, Viktor Frankl responded with a response that should prompt us to think more deeply. Humans are not obligated to describe life's significance in universal terms. Each of us will approach it in our own unique way, beginning with ourselves, our potential, and our experiences, and discovering ourselves in our daily lives.
Not only does the meaning of life vary from person to person, but we will all have a critical mission at different stages of our lives.
Our own journey of self-improvement
We already know that as a prisoner in Auschwitz and Dachau during the Holocaust, he endured the horrors of the Holocaust and triumphed. After surviving those years, it became crystal evident to him that his goal in life would be to assist others in finding their meaning in life and choosing their path.
We can use Frankl's knowledge to help us progress on our path to self-development and betterment. Here are some of the most valuable life lessons we may learn from his perspective.
It's something we've all witnessed at some point. No matter how bleak their situation appears to be, some people stay steady, cheerful, and motivated. How do they manage to do it? What is the composition of their cells, tendons, heart, and arteries? In reality, our biological structures are all the same. The thing that sets us apart from these people is their willpower.
At every stage of our lives, being motivated to achieve anything, conquer any hurdle, and fight for what we desire, no matter how modest, will help us be clear about our purposes.
Always have a clear purpose
Frankl stated in his book that nothing is worse than believing that our suffering is pointless, that pain is nothing more than the echo of hopelessness.
Suffering, on the other hand, can be not only endured but turned into a challenge if we can discover a purpose for it. Let us join forces to see a purpose in pain, an important purpose with which to nourish motivation, resistance... Before we yield and regard pain as useless, let us join forces to see a purpose in it, a crucial purpose with which to nourish motivation, resistance...
Your attitude is key in finding meaning in life
We must face the harsh reality that life is not always fair. Even when we give our best, invest time and emotions into something, fate decides to shatter our dreams. It's more than reasonable for us to fall apart in these situations. When this occurs, we have two choices.
The first is to believe that we have no control over what is occurring to us; that we are victims of circumstances over which we have no control.
The second (and preferred) alternative is to acknowledge that we cannot change what has happened to us, but we can modify how we respond to these events.