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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl - 3 Big Ideas

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

Those who have a why to live, can bear with almost any how.


Welcome to 3 Things You Can Use, where Maddi and I decode self-improvement and entrepreneurship through books, three things at a time. This week's book is Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl.

"A prominent Viennese psychiatrist before the war, Viktor Frankl was uniquely able to observe the way that both he and others in Auschwitz coped (or didn't) with the experience. He noticed that it was the men who comforted others and who gave away their last piece of bread who survived the longest - and who offered proof that everything can be taken away from us except the ability to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances. The sort of person the concentration camp prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not of camp influences alone. Frankl came to believe man's deepest desire is to search for meaning and purpose. This outstanding work offers us all a way to transcend suffering and find significance in the art of living."

So, what are three things we can use from this book?

3 Things You Can Use

1. The Tension Question

Viktor Frankl presents an interesting conception of tension, that is a little counter-intuitive to today's "anti-stress culture."

"I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium. That is, a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather a striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal. A freely chosen task. 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 ."

he continues to explain, representing his view with 2 poles on opposite sides of a field of tension. One pole is the meaning to be fulfilled and the other the person who must cross the field of tension to fulfil it.

It's an interesting conception in today's terms because it's telling us to run right at the stress -- and you don't hear that from anybody else.

But I think what the difference here is is that stress in most cases is something to be avoided, but only because of where it usually comes from. It's the difference between getting stressed because you spilled your drink vs. getting stressed because you are trying to take the next step in your life.

It's the difference between unnecessary stress over unnecessary things vs. stressing over important things.

Stressing over spilling your drink is counterproductive and harmful, whereas stressing over meaning has to happen in order to eventually fulfil the meaning.

2. The 3 Avenues of Meaning

Viktor Frankl, through his psychology practice of Logotherapy has shown that we can discover meaning in 3 different ways:

  • Creating a work or doing a deed

  • by experiencing something or encountering someone

  • by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering

He states that the way of achievement, creating work or doing a deed, as a way to discover meaning is obvious.

When it comes to experiencing something or encountering someone, he is talking about experiencing things like goodness, truth and beauty. Finding meaning by experiencing nature and culture. And last but not least by experiencing another human being in their very uniqueness, by loving them.

And finally we can find meaning in our response to unavoidable suffering. Frankl says that the choice we make in our suffering, to be decent or indecent, to choose dignity and humanity over the path of least resistance, gives us something to live for. Those who take the path of least resistance have already given up.

3. The Key to a Meaningful Life

But fundamentally, meaning goes deeper than achievement, experience and/or dignity. The most barebones way of finding meaning, that underlies the earlier forms of finding meaning, comes from selflessness or self-transcendence.

To transcend yourself, or to begin to focus more on others, is the only way to unlock the door to self-actualization and meaning.

Viktor Frankl puts this principle this way:

If you want to go to sleep really bad. You've got your to-do list for the next day rushing around in your head, it's late and if you don't sleep soon you'll have a bad day tomorrow and you really need to get this stuff done. So you worry and worry and tell yourself that you need to sleep.

You clearly won't be able to go to sleep as long as sleep is what you're focusing on.

He calls this hyper-intention. The point where intention defeats itself.

So everybody knows that the solution here is to try to stay awake instead. Focusing on staying awake, trying to keep your eyes open, repeating "stay awake" to yourself, puts you to sleep almost instantly.

This is where this principle applies to finding meaning itself. That the intention to self-actualize, that is to find meaning, by focusing on yourself and your self-actualization, makes it much harder to accomplish, whereas having a focus on others, transcending oneself, is the opposite. It's the way to counter the hyper-intention. Self-transcendence is the key to self-actualization.

It is the way to fall asleep by telling yourself to stay awake.


Stress can be necessary, and even good, if it's coming from an important place -- of meaning.

You can find meaning in 3 different, fluid ways: through achievement, experience or dignity in the face of suffering.

The key to finding meaning is transcending oneself and focusing on other people.

It's too bad this show is called the 3 Things Show and not the 100 things show. I had a lot of hard prioritizing to do to figure out which 3 things I wanted to use from this book because it was full of lots of very interesting philosophical points regarding our existence, as well as tons of great stories full of perspective and useful teachings.

This book is a two parter, the first part describes his experiences and musings of his time in the concentration camps and the second part is a condensed look at Logotherapy, the psychology of meaning.

It was a great book on the fundamentals of life that you don't really see much. I really enjoyed it and have a bit of a shifted perspective because of it.

So I highly recommend it -- and if you want to buy it you can click on the links below and they will take you right to it.

And I wanna say sorry that this video was late. I wanted to get it right, and I felt that yesterday I didn't have it where I wanted to be yet because this was a good one and I didn't want to mess it up.

Anyway, next week's video is still scheduled for Tuesday.

If you liked our show, give it a like!

Thank you for watching, if you're not subscribed, make sure to subscribe so you don't miss next week's video, and -

we'll see you next week!

Want to Read it?

Audible Free Trial (get this book for free!)

Man's Search for Meaning (Audible Version)

Man's Search for Meaning (Physical Copy)

(These links give me a little bump if you decide to use them. Thank you!)


Punching Sounds by: Mike Koenig

Reading Photo at end of video by: Marketa

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