"He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how."
"Between 1942 and 1945 psychiatrist Viktor Frankl labored in four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the stories of his many 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. Frankl's theory -- known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ('meaning') -- holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful." (From the back cover of the Beacon Press, 2006 edition.)
Man's Search for Meaning is more about psychology than it is about Nazi concentration camps, but that does not make Viktor Frankl's book any less inspiring. Like Primo Levi's Survival In Auschwitz, Frankl's discussions about his time in the camps focus more on how prisoners survived rather than how they died. Using his personal stories of living under the constant threat of death, Frankl explores humanity's deepest need: The need to feel their life or death matters.
This is a book that can be read over and over again, because there is so much here between the personal stories and the detailed discussion of logotherapy that what the reader takes from it will vary widely depending on where he or she is at that moment in his or her life. This first time around for me happens when I'm feeling that weird middle-age thing -- not feeling old, but understanding I'm no longer as young as I used to be and learning to accept that and accept the person I'm becoming. There are a million quotes I could use from this book to show you how eloquently Frankl probes a reader's deepest anxieties, but this was the one that stood out for me:
"[T]here is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future they have realities in the past -- the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized -- and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past." (p. 151)
I may not be quite to the "no opportunities, no possibilities in the future" portion of my life yet, but I know when I get there I already have some awfully cool stuff to look back on. And now it's time to create that quiet, comfortable place in my heart for which I yearn, for the wild child had a great time and it's okay to not want that anymore. And you know what? That feels really, really good.