Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Searching for Meaning in Life

Over the last 2-3 wks I have been reading Viktor Frankl’s book: Man’s Search for Meaning.  The following is a good summary written by the Vienna, Austria (AP) on September 3, 1997.  The quoted information was found on this website:  http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/frankl/frankl.html

Frankl survived the Holocaust, even though he was in four Nazi death camps including Auschwitz from 1942-45, but his parents and other members of his family died in the concentration camps.

During and partly because of his suffering in concentration camps, Frankl developed a revolutionary approach to psychotherapy known as logotherapy.
At the core of his theory is the belief that humanity's primary motivational force is the search for meaning, and the work of the logotherapist centers on helping the patient find personal meaning in life, however dismal the circumstances may be.
Frankl's teachings have been described as the Third Vienna School of Psychotherapy, after that of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler.
In "Man's Search for Meaning," which has sold approximately nine million copies worldwide and been translated into twenty-three languages. The Library of Congress called the book one of the ten most influential books of the twentieth century. Frankl said: "There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one's life."
According to logotherapy, meaning can be discovered meaning can be discovered by three ways: "(1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering," he wrote.
"We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation," he insisted, a theory he gradually developed as a concentration camp survivor.
"As such, I also bear witness to the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable,"   
The book was very inspiring.  Frankl divides the book into two parts—in the first he writes about “experiences in a concentration camp” and in the second, he writes about “logotherapy in a nutshell”.  And as I read I read the book I was able to make a few connections to the struggle of infertility.  As I share this I am in no way minimizing the suffering the Jews experienced.  I cannot comprehend the suffering the endured at the hands of evil and sadistic people.  And I am in complete awe of how the Jews overcame this terrible cruelty.

That said, as I read I had been feeling down again about infertility and wondering how long I would have to wait for an adoption to occur, and was feeling a bit overwhelmed with this trial.  And while I completely realize that my life is not terrible or hopeless, as I read, I thought that maybe infertility was my “concentration camp” and I wondered if I would survive the emotions and pain of it to arrive at day of liberation when my child would be placed in my arms.  I then had this stream of thoughts and questions: How would I spend my days as I waited for liberation?  And what if I was never liberated?  What then?  Could I rise to the occasion that this suffering had dealt me?  Could I find meaning in other ways?  Could I find meaning in accomplishing other things?  Could I find meaning through experiencing the goodness or life, nature, or people?  And as Frankl said, Could I experience “another human being in his very uniqueness by loving him”?  (man’s search for meaning p. 115)  Could I find meaning in my suffering and change my attitude towards this unavoidable suffering?  Suffering through infertility has taught me so many things, the last thing I want it to teach me is to give up. 

This book helped remind me in whatever way and at whatever time liberation from my suffering comes, I must find meaning during this time of waiting, or else I might not make it to my day of liberation. 

In conclusion, a few thoughts come to mind.  I used to love the phrase: “knowledge is power” until I was heard someone say that unless you act on that knowledge, it is meaningless.  So now that I once again reminded of what I need to do to find meaning in life and manage the pains of infertility, I hope I can act on this knowledge.  


  1. Thank you for your beautiful post. I have been meaning to read this book for over 10 years (and have been carrying it in a box every time I have moved). I think your post finally convinced me to read it.

    For Frankl, being in concentration camps was the most horrible thing that happened to him. And for you, it has been infertility, perhaps. I think your post really captures the point of the meaning we can find *through* our suffering (I put stars because I am using that word deliberately; I don't think we find meaning 'despite our suffering' or 'once our suffering has past'. I feel like the experience of suffering brings us closer to our humanity, and from that point, we can find meaning in a way that a life without suffering wouldn't afford us.
    I think Frankl captures that, from what I have heard about his writing and from what you wrote in your post.

    Thank you for your lovely entries, jrs. I really enjoy reading them.