A difficult, meaningful book
Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning has been a part of my consciousness since my earliest days of working in a retail bookstore. I stocked the psychology section, so I knew that it was popular. The copy I just took home from the library and read states that there are more than 12 million copies of the book in print. Though considered by many to be an inspirational book, and rightly so, some aspects of the book were quite difficult. The most obvious is Frankl's recounting of the times he spent in Nazi concentration camps. Frankl puts readers face-to-face with some of the awful things human beings are capable of.
The point, of course, is to demonstrate the positive possibilities of human beings in the face of those awful things. One of the major points of Frankl's book is that humans can find meaning even in the face of the most terrible suffering. If one is able to maintain one's dignity in the face of unavoidable suffering, Frankl writes, one can still have a meaningful existence. Frankl states that he is not a masochist, however, and that, if it is possible to remove the cause of one's suffering, one should do so. Though large parts of Frankl's book deal with one's attitude toward suffering, he insists that suffering is not required in order to have a meaningful existence.
Frankl also feels meaning can be found in creating a work, loving a person, or experiencing nature or culture. Frankl believes that it is one's attitude toward oneself and one's life that determines whether or not it is meaningful. This is the more subtly difficult aspect of the book. Frankl believes that one has a responsibility toward life, and not the other way around. We are free, but we have the responsibility to choose the right attitude and right conduct. This is an oversimplification of Frankl's book, but, at times, it is Frankl who fails to address adequately the many complexities each of us face in our lives. Of course, his book is an introduction to his theories, and not a weekly therapy session with him, where those complexities might be better addressed.
Overall, Frankl's book challenged me to think hard about my attitude toward life. Even if that's all one gets out if it, it's enough to make reading it worthwhile.