Man’s Search for Meaning is a 1946 book by Viktor Frankl chronicling his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and describing his psychotherapeutic method, which involved identifying a purpose in life to feel positive about, and then immersively imagining that outcome. Profoundly inspirational Man’s Search for Meaning quotes will challenge the way you think, change the way you live and transform your whole life.
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Famous Man’s Search for Meaning Quotes
The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal.
…it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct.
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.
..man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment….By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant Albeit, very promising (and difficult): Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.
..this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. That is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle (or, as we could also term it, the will to pleasure) on which Freudian psychoanalysis is centered, as well as in contrast to the will to power on which Adlerian psychology, using the term striving for superiority, is focused.
An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work.
Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in . . . terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.
Bismarck could be applied: Life is like being at the dentist. You always think that the worst is still to come, and yet it is over already.
1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing 1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing….The second way of finding a meaning in life is by experiencing something — such as goodness, truth and beauty — by experiencing nature and culture or, last but not least, by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness — by loving him.
We may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.
When we are no longer able to change a situation . . . we are challenged to change ourselves.
Every age has its own collective neurosis, and every age needs its own psychotherapy to cope with it. The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as the contention.
There was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.
A passive life of enjoyment affords . . . [man] the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature.
What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment….To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world? There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent.
One cannot . . . force oneself to be optimistic indiscriminately, against all odds, against all hope.
Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’ Once the reason is found . . . one becomes happy automatically.
From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the race of the decent man and the race of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.
A human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy . . . through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation.
At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.
Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness….That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
I should say having been is the surest kind of being……What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you
But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning
I only insist that meaning is available in spite of—nay, even through—suffering.
Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. Life does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique
A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining….In the concentration camps…. we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.
I know that without the suffering, the growth that I have achieved would have been impossible.
An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature. But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces…But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.
Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.
that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.
There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.
Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.
If . . . one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still choose his attitude.
Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!
…our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy……..he is not only unhappy but also ashamed of being unhappy…
When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task.
The fear is mother of the event….in the same way that fear brings to pass what one is afraid of, likewise a forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes…paradoxical intention on the twofold fact that fear brings about that which one is afraid of, and that hyper-intention makes impossible…his fear is replaced by a paradoxical wish. By this treatment, the wind is taken out of the sails of the anxiety.
A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.
He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.‘
The same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.
If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.
It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.
Every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.
Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.
…what they considered very important to them now, 16 percent of the students checked making a lot of money; 78 percent said their first goal was finding a purpose and meaning to my life.
the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone
Optimism is not anything to be commanded or ordered.
What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you? Oh, he said, for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered! Whereupon I replied, You see, Doc- tor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering — to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.
No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).
Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself, or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.