Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search For Meaning Quotes

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 are the most intriguing Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning quotes?

Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning quotes embody the message of the book; that we can make choices to survive, and that psychological strength can help us survive trauma and build a better life.

Read these four Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning quotes.

Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning Quotes

These four Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning quotes are from different parts of the book, and can help you understand major passages and messages. Of course, these are only a few of the best Viktor Frankl quotes.

“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, to choose one’s own way.”

This Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning quote is about the freedom to choose. 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.

In the concentration camps, prisoners had to continually choose whether to succumb to their horrible surroundings or preserve their inner selves, freedoms, and values.

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

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

This is one of the Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning quotes that refers to logotherapy. Logotherapy has a few core principles:

  • Humans are motivated by meaning. We want to know why we’re here, what we’re supposed to do, and if it has any value. 
    • Social scientists at Johns Hopkins University asked what college students considered very important to them. In America, you might think money reigns–yet only 16% of the students selected “making a lot of money” as the most important thing to them. 78% selected “finding a purpose and meaning to my life.”
  • You should find the true meaning of your life in the world, instead of in your own mind or psyche. 
    • Humans, at their best, are capable of transcending their own wants and feelings to work for things outside themselves–a cause they believe in, or a person they love.
    • From a public opinion poll Frankl conducted in France and Vienna: 89% agreed that humans need a reason to live for, and 61% admitted that in their own lives there was a person or thing/belief that they’d be willing to die for.

“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”

Emotional or psychological shock occurs when we encounter situations that are too stressful for us to process immediately. Shock can manifest in a variety of ways, but the main category Frankl discussed is abnormal reactions. This is one of the Viktor Frankl quotes from Man’s Search for Meaning that explains these reactions.

Humans react abnormally to abnormal situations.In other words, when we encounter a stressful situation, we have reactions that often contradict the situation, like laughing at a funeral. Abnormal reactions to abnormal circumstances are actually normal and expected reactions. In fact, the more normal you are, the more abnormal your reactions to abnormal circumstances are.

Frankl refers to four abnormal reactions: delusions of reprieve, humor, curiosity, and lack of fear. 

“What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.”

Again, nihilism is the belief that life is meaningless. The nihilism we suffer from today is a personal, private one that each individual suffers alone. After all, there can be little camaraderie in the idea that everything’s meaningless. Once you fall into one of those frustrations, you can start to feel empty, distant, and aimless, and it gets harder to pull yourself out of this emotional place. Logotherapy refers to this place as an existential vacuum.

These Viktor Frankl quotes from Man’s Search for Meaning are just a few in the book that can help convey the book’s meaning. You can find other fantastic Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning quotes in the book or our full summary.

Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search For Meaning Quotes

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  • 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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