This is a life-changing book that I'll be rereading regularly and giving copies to those I hope can benefit from it. The book is divided into two parts, the first describing the typical experience of prisoners in concentration camps and the second introducing the practice of logotherapy.
His experiences in concentration camps showed him three main stages of reaction experienced by the prisoners. First, they went through a period of shock at their situation, followed quickly by a sense of curiosity and objectivity about their ordeals, surprise at what they could endure physically and psychologically, and the development of a sense of humor about their ordeals (surprising to outsiders). The next stage, as they became inured to their lifestyle, was a growing sense of apathy and an emotional death, as well as a regression to more primitive dreams. And the last, for those who were able to survive the camps, was a sense of bitterness and disillusionment about freedom, though even this could be overcome with time and the proper outlook.
Logotherpay posits that man's primary motivation in life is not his search for pleasure (as freud suggested) but his search for what is genuine and meaningful. He then presents the three primary ways in which meaning may be found: (1) in creating work or doing adeed, (2) in experiencing something or encountering someone (love), and (3) in one's attitude towards unavoidable suffering. Frankl also presents the idea that the trouble is "not about bearing meaninglessness of life, but our incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness," which I find an incredibly powerful notion.
He also presents the idea of existential frustration, which occurs when one strives to find concrete meaning in personal existence, an experience which is not pathological in itself but can be pathogenic (or cause disease). He believes we are wrong to seek a tensionless state of being or to remove challenges from our lives, because it is the tension between what one has achieved and what one still has to accomplish that keeps one's life meaningful. As Tennyson wrote in "Ulysses,": "To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield." The goal is to strive for a freely-chosen and worthwhile goal, not to have no more goals, to fo simply what others wish to do (conformism), or to do what others wish for you to do (totalitarianism).
He discusses the problem of paradoxical intention, in which one wishes for what they fear the most (whether stiuttering, sweating, or insomnia), in order to erase self-fulfilling prophesies.
He notes that with freedom comes responsibility. And he ends with the concept of tragic optimism, which confronts how one may find life potentially meaningful and experience hope, faith and love in spite of there being pain, guilt, and death. Frankl writes that, for those looking back on life, with sadness at how little they have to look forward to, that in the past "nothing is irretrievably lost but irrevocably stored and treasured." And he postulates that one may derive from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better.
Obviously, this review is not meant as a replacement for reading this essential book, but as a mere reminder to myself what lessons struck me in my first reading. When you read this book, you'll find that the first time through is only the beginning. And to the woman who scolded me on Goodreads for being unable to read the small print of the book, I hoep you're now satisfied.
My therapist suggested this one, but after I was appalled by his recommendation of Death Be Not Proud, he pleaded ignorance as to why he suggested this book and asked me not to take it personally if it offended my sensibilities. But it seems the fates would prefer I not read this book, so I'll never know whether Man's Search for Meaning could have changed my life. Or, for that matter, if my not reading it will change my life.
I first ordered a print copy from the library, but when it arrived, I was stunned by how tiny the print was. It's a short book and you'd think that the population of those searching for meaning wouldn't have the best vision in the first place, whether through misfortune or old age, so it puzzled me why the publisher would make it so difficult for poor meaningless souls to gain a scrap of wisdom from Frankl.
Then, I ordered the CD version from the library, thinking I'd just listen to Frankl and gain meaning through auditory osmosis. But I got it today and the CD was all scratched up and refused to play. It merely repeated, "Man's Search . . . Man's Search for Meaning . . . Man's Search for meaning." Is this a sign from the gods? Am I not meant to make sense of life or become a wiser person? Am I too young to search for meaning? Is the book for a male audience alone? Have I already found meaning, so an ethereal Frankl knows he has nothing to offer me? Is my therapist preventing me for being traumatized by another of his book recommendations?
My search continues . . . at the bookstore, it seems.