Friday, February 11, 2011

Week 55: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

This book is deep.

Viktor Frankl was a psychologist prior to being imprisoned in four different concentration camps. He worked and starved and froze as a prisoner, but all the while, observed the psychological state of his fellow prisoners.

I found Viktor's story horrifying, as you would guess, but also, quite inspiring. Even in the worst situation, he was able to continue to maintain a certain level of mental health because he had a goal in mind: to finish a manuscript that was confiscated when he came to the camp. He didn't realize it at the time, but as he observed his own frame of mind and survival instincts, he realized that the prisoners who felt their lives had a purpose were more likely to survive the concentration camps. Viktor's ability to transcend his own situation was because he felt he had to complete his goal.

When Viktor was discharged, he began to hone his own psychological idea - "logotherapy". Logotherapy is the study of the meaning of life as it pertains to each individual patient. The patient may feel unhappiness is his true problem, when actually, his problem is that he has no purpose or goal. Frankl discovered that happiness is actually a by-product of having a purpose or meaning in your life.

One of Frankl's suggestions (in case you can't find a purpose or meaning) is to volunteer. I really liked that idea (surprise, surprise). Say you're unemployed. You've got a lot of time on your hands. If you pick a few places to volunteer, you may discover a new passion, a new goal, a creative side, or you may hate it altogether (that's the best thing about volunteering - you can move on with very little difficulty). But a volunteer is giving a part of him or herself to the mission of an organization. That is an honorable task. And guess what? Sometimes volunteering leads to - ta da! - a job!

Despite whatever difficulty I had in reading the last third of this book (the footnotes alone were enough to drive me batty), I understood Frankl's major points. Happiness will not be found in material things. It will only be found when a person forgets about happiness completely, and strives to reach a goal or serve a purpose. I felt a very personal connection to Frankl, his work, and his writing.

All in all, an awesome book... and if you don't like psychology or if it confuses you, just read Frankl's true account of his time in the concentration camps. (It's the first part of the book.)

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