Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust,consists of two parts. The first half is the memoir of Viktor’s experience in the concentration camps,. He talked about emotions, suffering, love, human existence, and the meaning of life. The second half explains his theories of logotherapy. This is an emotionally and intellectually challenging classic. A must-read in my opinion!
Unlike the overall historic picture of the Holocaust that I learned from textbooks, Viktor’s memoire describes the daily life inside of the camp from an average prisoner’s view. He defined the three psychological stages of a prisoner: shock, apathy, and what he called “depersonalization” after liberation. Apathy is the scariest stage. After a while, the prisoners got so used to death and crime that they simply stopped reacting to them. In an incident that Viktor accounted, the corpse of a prisoner was being dragged by in front of his eyes, his reaction? “Two hours before I had spoken to that man. Now I continued sipping my soup.” This quote sent chills down my spine. After years of trekking from camp to camp, only those prisoners who “lost all scruples” and used every mean to survive, honest or dishonest, were able to save themselves. Viktor lamented the brutality of the reality, “we know: the best of us did not return.”
According to Viktor, logotherapy “considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts…or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and environment.” In other words, men must have the will to meaning. We have to actively look for a purpose for our lives because the “meaning of life” is different for everyone.
Another interesting point in logotherapy is what Viktor called “hyper-intention.” When people try too hard to avoid a condition, they might make it worse because they focus on it too much thus become over-anxious. On the contrary, giving less attention to or even learning to ridicule certain problem might make it better. For example, someone with a stuttering problem will actually stutter less when they care less about it. While happiness is a choice, there’s a lot of unhappiness-shaming nowadays. People are so carefully avoiding it that they are not only unhappy, but unhappy about being unhappy. We all feel down at times and it’s totally natural. There’s fine line between optimism and denial. Continue reading