The Freedom to Choose: Building the Skills to Survive

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the freedom to choose? How can this freedom help you build strength and get through traumatic events?

The freedom of choice definition in logotherapy refers to our ability to choose how to respond to any situation. We can make choices no matter the situation we’re in, which can help us get through difficult times.

Read more about building psychological resistance and the freedom to choose your path no matter what.

The Freedom to Choose

What is the freedom of choice meaning? It may sometimes feel like we’re completely at the mercy of our surroundings–especially in truly difficult circumstances–but that’s not the case. Humans have the freedom to make choices, no matter what the situation is. 

Think about terminally ill people. It might seem like they have no choice, and this might be true medically–but they can still choose how to face their illness and what to do with the rest of their time. Sometimes, in circumstances like this, our freedom to choose how we approach something is the only freedom we have left. This is the freedom of choice definition in logotherapy.

  • Frankl received a letter from a young invalid who had learned he had no medical options and would die soon–but he’d seen a movie where a man chose to face death with courage, and the invalid now saw his own chance to do the same.

In the concentration camps, prisoners had to continually choose whether to succumb to their horrible surroundings or preserve their inner selves, freedoms, and values. He began to wonder about this freedom to choose.

  • Frankl volunteered for medical duties at a concentration camp where there were typhus patients. Even though he risked getting typhus himself and dying, at least his death would have meaning in those circumstances: a doctor trying to save people. 

At the very least, we have the freedom to choose how we view a situation, even one of hardship and suffering, and this freedom can’t be taken away from us by external forces

All three of these methods center around an idea that was already important to Frankl and his psychotherapy career before he entered the concentration camps: the idea of a meaningful life. Our inner lives are built on things we find meaningful; our future goals are often built around what we find meaningful; and by making choices, we affirm what we find meaningful. This is the freedom of choice meaning.

The Freedom to Choose: Building the Skills to Survive

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Here's what you'll find in our full Man's Search For Meaning summary:

  • How Viktor Frankl survived four Nazi death camps
  • Frankl's life-changing advice for coping with suffering
  • Why focusing on what you enjoy isn't enough to make your life meaningful

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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