Between 1942 and 1945, Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, labored throughout four different Nazi concentration camps while his family and pregnant wife did the same elsewhere. Despite his grueling existence throughout those years, with his entirely family perishing, Frankl lays out in his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) (German: …trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager), how he had managed to survive the Nazi death camps by developing and applying his theories on finding meaning in all forms of existence.
Man’s Search for Meaning is based on Frankl’s own experience as an inmate in Nazi concentration camps as well as the experiences of survivors that he later went on to treat in his practice once the Nazi’s had been defeated in the Second World War. Man’s Search for Meaning is considered, by the Library of Congress, as one of the top ten most influential books in the United States. Frankl’s ideas and experiences gave rise to what is now called Logotherapy, which differentiates itself from the methods of other famous Austrian psychiatrists, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, by its doctrine of will to meaning.
According to his theory, a prisoner’s longevity or ability to survive the suffering inflicted on them was affected by how the prisoner imagined their future. Frankl’s conclusion is that the meaning of life can be found within every moment we live, even when faced with suffering or imminent death. In Frankl’s own experience, he describes how he and other prisoners were marching one bitterly cold morning back to camp (Auschwitz), with guards abusing them on the way, and the image of his wife was something that would keep him moving.
The title of this book in German is interesting and a translation of it is: ..Nevertheless say ‘yes’ to life: A psychologist experiences the concentration camps. The meaning that I have taken from this book, which is something that has stuck with me throughout the years, is that one thing we need to focus on is simply doing good things. Doing things that have meaning for ourselves, more so than for others. Now, when you do something that has meaning to you, that you thoroughly enjoy, you are likely to find success.
As I state in part six of my Speaker Series, Leading Through Adversity, don’t chase success. Do things that have meaning to you, do good things, and success will chase you. This is something I quickly realized after reading Man’s Search for Meaning, which makes me wish I had read it decades earlier.