Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day and the 70th Anniversary of Auschwitz liberation, so it seems apt that today’s post is about Viktor Frankl’s best-selling classic Man’s Search for Meaning. The extraordinary memoir of a psychotherapist who survived life in a Nazi concentration camp.
The story is based on his experiences in camp where he laboured, starved and was subjected to horrific abuse, whilst his pregnant wife, brother and parents all perished. It is a profound book on the strength of the human spirit in the face of despair.
There are two areas that really stand out for me in this book. The first is Frankl’s argument that we cannot avoid suffering, that life is suffering, but what is important is our perception of it and how we choose to react to it.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
How we perceive something gives it its meaning and whilst we can have everything we love striped from us, no one can take away our freedom of thought and the way we react to suffering and life’s challenges. To find meaning in this suffering, it to find enlightenment and spiritual growth.
The second area of particular interest is Viktor’s attitude to success.
Originally Viktor had planned to publish Man’s Search For Meaning anonymously. He didn’t want to earn any literary fame, but under immense pressure from friends and piers, he agreed to have his name printed on the title page. It has since sold over 9 million copies worldwide.
“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.
I love the idea that happiness and success cannot be attained and the harder you aim at the target, the less likely you are to reach it. Instead you must focus on the greater good and finding meaning in your life. Then hopefully, for the lucky few, success and happiness will follow.