Life's Meaning Defined by Viktor Frankl Essay

Total Length: 1265 words ( 4 double-spaced pages)

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Frankl, many people seek therapy because of the "feeling of the total and ultimate meaningless of their lives," (p. 62). Frankl mainly refers to the "super-meaning" or to the ultimate meaning of life from a general existential or cosmological perspective -- not the personalized meaning in one individual's purpose in life, which is a different question (p. 74). A state of meaninglessness is the inability to move forward and progress through pain, not just in spite of pain and suffering but because of it. Meaningless is a "feeling of emptiness," and an "existential vacuum," (p. 143). Meaninglessness is the inability to learn from suffering, and thereby transform suffering into something that is meaningful. According to Frankl, meaningfulness cannot be located in the propagation of the species because one must find meaning whether or not one procreates. Meaning comes from feeling useful, and feeling useful needs to arise independently of external circumstances, somehow. Of course, it is challenging to find meaning in a life that is both transitory and filled with pain. As a challenge, finding meaning requires energy expenditure and effort. Finding meaning is an active process; meaning is not going to suddenly appear without any effort. Frankl also points out that people who take drugs are reacting to a sense of meaninglessness and that to achieve recovery from addiction or to prevent suicide and mental illness, one must actually search for and find meaning. Depression is essentially the feeling of meaninglessness, it is learned helplessness or learned meaninglessness. Meaningless is when "people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning," and "some do not even have the means," (p. 142).

Death camps are obviously one way a person can learn meaninglessness. However, death camps are not the only way a person can learn meaninglessness. People under otherwise ordinary circumstances feel a sense of meaninglessness, just as people who survive death camps can recover a sense of meaning, even when it seems they have lost everyone and lost all hope. Granted, recovering meaning will be more difficult for people who have lost everything because it will require more effort.

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Meaninglessness is learned "from a frustration of our existential needs," common in industrial societies (p. 141). People who are unemployed, for example, tend to get depressed because they feel useless, which leads to feeling meaningless. People who are employed in a work that seems to lack meaning can also develop a sense of meaninglessness. People need "something to live for," a feeling that whatever they are doing is useful or meaningful (p. 142).

Part II

Frankl urges a strong "meaning orientation" in order to overcome meaninglessness and depression (p. 143). Developing a meaning orientation often entails working with other people. Frankl mentions a study of boy scouts who had been exhibiting aggressive behavior, and that aggressive behavior subsided when they were put to the task of working together. The collaboration process provides people with a sense of meaning.

There is more to finding meaning than simply working with others on collaborative tasks, of course. Frankl finds that people struggle to find meaning when they focus too much on the big picture before they learn how to find meaning in the small details, in the mundane, or in daily life. Frankl uses the analogy of the movie. To understand the whole movie, one must also understand the individual parts that make up that movie -- the scenes that comprise the whole story or the characters that are involved. Then, meaning must be located in one's ability to take action, to feel powerful enough to understand each situation and change it. One must ultimately….....

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Works Cited

Frankl, Viktor. Man's Search for Meaning. Beacon Press. Online:

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