According to the Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy, the following tenets represents the basic principles of Frankl’s theory:
- Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
- Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
- We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.
His book, Man’s Search for Meaning, gives the reader a glimpse into life in a Nazi death camp but also details the thinking that underlies his theory of Logotherapy.
Memorable quotes from Man’s Search for Meaning:
“…success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself…” (pp. xiv-xv)
“…love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire… The salvation of man is through love and in love.” (p. 37)
“Et lux in tenebris lucet — and the light shineth in the darkness.” (p. 41) [This resembles, in part, the Latin translation of John 1:5].
“…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.” (p. 66)
“Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” (p. 77)
“…the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” (p. 108)
“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated.” (p. 109)
“…suffering cease to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning…” (p. 113)
“Man has both potentialities [good and evil] within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.” (p. 134)
“…a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy…” (p. 138)
“Once an individual’s search for meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering.” (p. 139)
Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.
Sarah Bakewell recommends, among others, Man’s Search for Meaning in this Five Books interview on existentialism.