Book Recommendation - Man's Search for Meaning

Dear :name-retracted:,

I finished reading a book today. It’s called Man’s Search for Meaning, written by Viktor Frankl. He was a German psychiatrist captured by Hitler’s army in one of the most horrific concentration camps. If you are not aware of “The Holocaust,” more than a million people were killed in those concentration camps and more than ten million Jews during World War II. In the Auschwitz concentration camp, he (the author) witnessed so many deaths and brutality during the time he was captured in prison. People were separated from their families and children. They were gassed up and killed if they were unfit for work. Surviving on very little food and medicines, all their lives were a misery. The author saw his companions losing hope for survival. Based on his own experience and the stories of his patients, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.

To save you time from reading it, I will share the things I learned from this book.

I see this book as an answer to “Why should we not be depressed?” and a guide to handling other existential questions. One of the most asked questions by the entire humanity is “What is the meaning of my life? What is the purpose of my existence?”. These questions have been here since tens of thousand years. People have created religions to answer these questions. Righteousness (Dharma) and other ethics come out of these religions. Here is what the author says -

There is no abstract universal meaning to life. We should stop finding it. We do not need to ask this question. But life itself is asking this question from us. We have to answer it ourselves. This question is not ours to ask, but for us to answer. We create our meaning. Whether it is work, love, or courage. We create our “Why” individually. And this “Why” guides us to survive any “How”.

He adds that — 

Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure or a quest for power, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. It can be anything or anyone. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.

Finally, something which I’ll always try to remember is — 

Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.

This book is nothing but a relief, a motivation to lead a peaceful and meaningful life.

When I thought upon how we are raised, I noticed that our parents, teachers, and well-wishers try to inflict us with what gave meaning to their lives. My grandfather found purpose in a well-paid job because he had a sizeable low-income family to feed. That was it. He is 88 years old now, and the meaning of life still hasn’t changed for him. My father finds the purpose of life in a loving family. Everyone should talk to each other and support each other in their difficult times. I don’t know why he does that, but that is what I am aware.

Neither of those two are correct nor incorrect. As an individual, I respect what drives them. But every time my grandfather says “I wish you get crores rupees of salary and stand 1st in your college”, I smile and silently disagree.

So :name-retracted:, the next time you think of something which you have not achieved, which makes you feel you have not been successful, which threatens your self-esteem, take a minute and ask yourself “Is this or will this be meaningful to me?”. Meaningful doesn’t mean enjoyable but fulfilling.

Take care,
Himanshu

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