Man’s Search for Meaning: 12 Thought-Provoking Passages From Viktor Frankl

As many as 6000 people were killed each day during the Holocaust. Viktor Frankl survived and chronicled his brutal experiences as an Auschwitz inmate in: Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl’s survival through one of history’s darkest events and reflections on the fortitude of the human spirit have inspired millions around the world.

Here are 12 thought-provoking passages from his book:


Make what you seek the by-product, not the object.

“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.”


Your response > circumstances.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”


Embrace the uniqueness of your life.

“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”


Adopt a second-chance mentality.

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”


Never lose hope.

“The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.”


Striving and struggling is what we are designed for.

“I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that man needs equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, homeostasis, i.e., a tensionless state rather than the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”


Take responsibility over your life.

“Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”


We are like sheep.

“Man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).”


Responsibility to others will give your life meaning.

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.'”


Questions about life need to be grounded in the here and now.

“What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent.”


The pressure of dire situations will push you to find results.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as an inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.”


True freedom is tethered with resposibility.

“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”