Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

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Viktor Frankl was a respected doctor and therapist before he became a concentration camp prisoner during the Holocaust. After somehow surviving the unthinkable only to find that he had lost both his parents and his pregnant wife, he wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning.

I’ve visited the Dachau concentration camp, but reading this book was so much more vivid. You’re not just sent somewhere to die. You’re forced to relocate to a “labor camp”, and so you pack up your entire life into a few bags. Your bags are confiscated, so you hide some photos or jewelry in your clothes. You are stripped completely naked, and given a dead man’s rags to wear. You don’t even have a name anymore, you’re just a number (Frankl was 119104). And this is before the coming years of physical and mental torture.

With this background, Frankl introduces logotherapy, a form of existentialism that says that humans are driven not by the pursuit of pleasure (Freud) or the pursuit of power (Adler), but the pursuit of meaning. There are three ways to achieve meaning:

  1. Creating a work or doing a deed,
  2. Experiencing something or encountering someone (love),
  3. By taking a proper attitude when faced with unavoidable suffering

This last part is hard to explain unless you read the book, but the unavoidable part should be emphasized. We’re not talking about “pain is good”. In my mind, I think of it as maintaining honor and self-respect no matter what. Frankl writes:

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.

He also quotes Nietzsche, “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”

How does this relate to personal finance and the pursuit of financial freedom? I think of it in two ways. First, in terms of yourself. We are all attracted to material things like houses, cars, clothes, and I’d include money. Imagine if all that was taken away. You’d still have your body, your mind, your unique meaning and purpose in the world. We should develop those things. The things you’ve learned, your memories, your experiences, your skills, all those can’t be taken away. All the good deeds that you have already accomplished, those also can never be taken away.

Second, it relates to motivation. Why do you want more money? Why do you want financial freedom? Is it enough to just want to avoid work? Maybe your goal is to spend time with your loved ones. Maybe you want to create beautiful art. Maybe you want to build an orphanage in Cambodia. Maybe you just want to try every ramen restaurant in Japan.

I have some meanings that I am pursuing, but I’m still searching for others.

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  1. Well, the sense of mortality gives a sense of meaning, or a at least urgency, to my life.

    Almost all of us will live fewer decades than the number of their fingers on two hands. Some of us, due to the accident or illness, will live fewer decades than the number of their fingers on one hand.

    What’s the use of accumulating so much stuff, or money, when there is so little time to enjoy it ?! Hence the focus should be on the experiences which may include things as travel, interactions with humans and pets, or even emerging yourself into a good book of movie.

  2. very profound; these are the Big questions in life we should all think about.
    sometimes we need to take a step back and see the big picture.
    we get so caught up in daily life that we forgot what it’s all about. what do we really want out of life.
    thanks for sharing.

  3. Such a great reminder, thank you. Now on to planning my goals…

  4. I really appreciate this post. Thank you.

  5. Great advice, I like it! We can all take a page from Victor’s strength.

  6. The Purpose of Human Form of Life is “Self Realization”. Only in this form, we’re given an opportunity to question and reason: Why am I here? Where do I have to go? Where have I come from? In other words: meaning of life.

    There’s a book: “Man’s Eternal Quest” by Paramahansa Yogananda. A good starter is the another book: Autobiography of a Yogi.

    Most of us don’t even know the real meaning of life as we’re conditioned, made to think in a certain way.

    For example, most of the folks think that it is not possible to be Financially Free in this lifetime. They can’t imagine life without job.

    Only when we make a humble and genuine inquiry about the Truth…that we’re guided to right path..


  7. A fantastic read for me was, The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. I am currently reading through the English Standard Version of the Bible three chapters at a time and revisiting why and what I believe about God and Christ. This is giving me a clear purpose, joy and peace!

    I am also writing out my life goals and using them as a measure for what I do with each day.

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