Book Club Discussion: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Since Man’s Search for Meaning was one of the most intense, if not emotionally charged, books we have ever discussed in our group, I had no idea what to expect.

Suffice it to say that the insights and perspectives that were expressed throughout our discussion made me feel much more uplifted and encouraged than I ever imagined.

Like Frankl, we chose to use the event as a form of proof that human beings are able to rise above circumstances, to find meaning, and to use our experiences to reshape our thoughts.

I think this quote explains the theme of the book succinctly: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

We agreed that our responses to all of life’s situations are a reflection of our own choices. Whether we intend to or not, sometimes our decisions hurt others because we react without thinking about the consequences. It’s our conscious awareness that leads us to better choices – and ultimately more joy.

As a coping mechanism, and perhaps as a distraction, Frankl often had silent conversations with his wife, whose whereabouts were unknown. This was a common practice among prisoners – to think about and speak of their wives and families. Frankl believed that “love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire,” and that “the salvation of man is through love and in love.”

Art and humor were also tools for survival. He describes humor as “another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.” In fact, some men even sacrificed their food rations to attend events that fed that inner need for humor (a bit of a deviation from Maslow’s hierarchical ordering I suspect). Many museums throughout the world display some of the most breathtaking, creative pieces of art I have ever seen. Even when deprived of some of our most basic human needs, we’re able to create and thrive.

One member identified with Frankl’s observation that, “Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less.” It’s comforting to know that having a deep sense of self can act as a safety net.

We talked about how we sometimes tend to justify our bad behaviors by blaming external factors for our choices. And, similarly, how easy it can be to convince others of that faulty truth. Are we gullible because we’re all so busy with our own lives that we accept things without question?

What lessons did this book instill in us? For one, it taught us to be more aware of our own reactions to life’s challenges. It also helped us better categorize the severity of our “inconveniences” compared with life’s major events like Frankl’s. We were also reminded to be more grateful for the blessings in our lives.

Viktor Frankl’s experience is one that will last with his readers for a lifetime, which means something good did come from it.

Many thanks to those who attended this month’s event! Please feel free to add to the comments section if there is anything you’d like to add to this.