Reviewed by Mynivia Burrell
Have you ever posed the question, “What is your life about?” or “Why are we even here?” to anyone? If you have, the question likely evoked laughter or even resulted in shocked silence. That kind of question moves the conversation from the cocktail-party level to the deepest cries of the human heart. Regardless of how a person seems to respond to the question, the motivation for asking it is the same: to awaken thought in another person who may also be searching for meaning outside the physical. In life’s most dire, despairing, and dejected circumstances, the human animal wonders not only what is happening in his life, but, even more desperately, seeks to attach some kind of meaning to what he experiences as in his life.
In what is perhaps one of the most important books of our time, Victor Frankl develops a philosophical argument that results in a very basic premise: happiness is a choice that humans can make, regardless of their circumstances. And lest the skeptic in you think that this man sat sheltered in an ivy-covered, academic, tour d’ivoire, pondering the meaning of life from the comfort of a peaceful, predictable position of influence and respect, he recounts his emotional and mental journey to the great revelation of his soul’s true freedom, as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. He tells not a story, but an experience as he lived it. In the same way that an alcoholic seeks out a recovering alcoholic to guide him through his journey to wholeness, a person suffering through a soul-wrenching time seeks out, consciously or not, the revelations presented in this book. The monologue of a man who suffered horrors unimaginable offers the person embroiled in his or her own personal hell the chance to enter the mind of another suffering person and to follow his thoughts from the initial shock of trauma to the firm resolution to hold happiness in his heart. Life sucks sometimes, but if a human being does not take up the fight to choose his attitude toward his circumstances, he becomes enslaved by them. His ability to experience joy becomes stifled and his sense of himself is lost amid life’s difficulties.
“Man’s Search for Meaning” is not difficult to read; its truths are easily understood. It acknowledges life’s adversities. It does not diminish the struggle that is the nature of living. AND it gives an indispensable model for adjusting the viewpoint of the sufferer–all of us, at one point or another. By applying this model, the one who struggles understands that he has the tools within himself to be happy, to be free. This book does not provide a single meaning that fits everyone, but Frankl’s important work gives everyone the tools and inspiration to find the meaning of and in life.