Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

When I was in high school I visited the United States Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. It was an inexpressible, intense, gut-wrenching experience. It is a real existential moment. The nation’s capital is practically one huge monument to human progress. Even when I look at war memorials, I leave with a sense of progress in a face of tragedy, where the good guys win with great sacrifices. However, when I left the Holocaust museum I felt hopeless and depressed. It is just unfathomable something so atrocious happened and it happened on such a large scale.

Viktor Frankl understood this hopelessness. He understood it better than anyone else, he survived the Holocaust. And while so many people point to the Holocaust as evidence towards depravity and despair, Frankl, without minimizing the tragic experience, saw it a catalyst of hope and meaning.

Simply put, I cannot imagine going through such suffering. I have a difficult time just reading it, but it was liberating to read Frankl’s timeless words. Seeing his version of hope was illuminating.

The first half of the book is a concise summary of his experiences in the concentration camps and the second half is about the therapy that can move one from such despair to fulfilling life. This quote summarized it well for me, “it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” Being a consumer of life is effortless today, everything is built with a consumeristic mindset. What is difficult, yet exponentially more fulfilling, is becoming a producer of life. Creating something valuable is so much more rewarding. It’s harder to give up when you have so much more to do.

This book is short. It is not an easy read. It is not exciting. But it is true and it is important.