How To Not Live An Empty Life. Distilling Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Para 1 – Summary

Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” is a painful knock of revelation. Through his own sufferings in Nazi’s concentration camps, the book is designed to paint a man’s journey of self-actualisation. Most of the great biographies are so great because we actively invested ourselves into the lives of the author and involved in the cinematic universe that unfolds through the pages. It is a tears-tempting read – the kind of story that wrenches your heart and invites you to imagine having a purpose in all things of your life, even your sufferings. Without begging for our sympathy, Frankl wastes no time in suggesting that we wake up from the slumber of being lost.

He did it in a way that never once belittling your capacity as a person, never doubting.

Para 2 – Character and backstory


We see a man who lost all his physical possessions and all his loved ones, even stripped of his own clothes and hair.


Stripped of even his clothes and hair, this was a man reduced to zero.


The scene opened with train of prisoners on their way to another concentration camp.


How does it feel like when you are almost certain that your final destination is a chamber gassing you to death?


Only they would know.


Every prisoner was controlled by one thought only: to keep himself alive for the family waiting for him at home, and to save his friends.


Frankl was number 119,104.


Each man was a number.


Three phases of inmate’s reactions to camp life: shock in his admission, numb when well-entrenched in camp, and indifferent following his release and liberation.


The question then becomes, what keeps a man from killing himself when all hope is lost?

Para 3 – The looming challenge

Delusion of reprieve, the condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute. We, too, clung to shreds of hope and believed to the last moment that it would not be so bad


We quickly discern that whatever hope they have, it is no more than a mere illusion.


And the bleakness is intensified as the prisoners get closer to the camp, and the men’s fate held by the camp guard’s direction to turn left or right.


Neither leads to any promised land.


The bulk of “Man’s Search For Meaning” takes place in the concentration camp, as the prisoners being at the mercy of the camp guards’ creativity in torturing them.


Surviving through day-to-day in a world with no hope and only torture is difficult, and the guards continue to prove that they are incapable of any sympathy with every method of torture possible to a heartless soul to kill and wound at the slightest disobedience.

Para 4 – The Hope

Inhumane guards incapable of humanity have been a big part of many Nazi stories for years, from Schindler’s List o Inglorious Bastards, and here the fear plays to our hearts too. While Frankl made reservation in his descriptions, it did not hinder the experience of bringing us into his world.

He regularly, but not too regularly, gives us a glimpse into his life.

He will describe to us how the guards are going to torture them, how a gas chamber is just next door, giving the suspense the it may be over any time.

Do not worry, Frankl does not write this book to scare but to inspire, he does not overplay the torture details.

There aren’t gas chambers in action nor amputation.

It is a subtle and clever storytelling tool to share his learnings of meaning with most of the dialogue happens internally, and it pulls us into his world in an empathetically enjoyable way.

Para 5 (What’s good about it – the technique)

It also helps that Frankl displays a sense of composition and relativity that is distinctly different from telling a story from an unrelatable perspective.

“Man’s Search For Meaning” is a no-nonsense, lean book – the best kind when it comes to biography.

It feels as though every paragraph has been considered with care as the story beats like the dying heart of a man without hope to live, too little time with too much to live for, perfectly setting up the emotional stakes and the learnings of having a purpose.

The story has a calming sense of narrative, almost all of it taking place in the concentration camps that Frankl finds himself being sent blindly to, knowing that despite the sufferings, he will find his purpose and the importance of it.

This is not one of those biographies who beg for your sympathies.

It is a personal story that arouses the idea that life can be so different when you have a purpose.

Which, is the crux of logotherapy.

Para 7 – The message

At the core of “Man’s Search For Meaning”, it is a message that in order to live meaningfully, we need to find meaning in every aspect of our lives.

Even in sufferings, as experienced by Frankl and some of his cell mates.

It is a book about self-discovery that led to self-actualisation, and it is that emotional and personal hook that elevates the message.

It helps a great deal that Frankl completely bares all his inner struggles out.

Para 8 (The not-so-good)

With almost no dialogue, “Man’s Search for Meaning” relies a great deal on the storytelling for the lessons on logotherapy to be sifted through.

At times, I needed to reread some paragraphs to understand the impact of those sufferings had on him as a logotherapist.

While the lessons are not listed in bullet points or 12 how-to steps, Frankl has used concise sentences to deliver his message in a poetic manner.

It’s nitpicking but I would love to learn more on how one can find his own meaning or purpose in this modern life.

Para 9 (How it’s relevant in real life)

We live in such a world which emphasises so much on pleasure that it is difficult to imagine we need to dig into our pains to find our meanings.

We avoid any discomfort at all costs and sometimes at the expense of others, when it is necessary.

So many books out there are written that you have to find your passion, search for the meaning in what you love, it is a part of who we are as a species.

Frankl suggests an alternative, that not only we can find meaning in what we love, but in everything, that having a purpose makes a life whole.

Regardless of your situation, “Man’s Search For Meaning” asks a question, if a man knows that he is most definitely likely to be dead, in a dire conditions where living is harder than dying, what keeps him alive.

To answer the question, Frankl has summed it all up in a Nietzsche’s quote – he who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how.

You don’t just put down this book having experienced a tough wake up call, you put it down on a high, the kind of high that only comes from the fire burning in your belly.

The idea of having a why and bearing any how.

You must find your why.

What suffering can do to your self growth.

If there is no purpose, there is no meaning to life.

Find meaning in everything that you do.

What do you hold onto to get you through the pains.

How comradeship can help people rally together and grow.

Why you must find art, be it technical, writing, knowledge to sustain you.

Even if you have life easy, without purpose, you will live an empty life.

Most of our problems arise from not having meaning.

Meaning can get us through grief and lack of motivation.


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