Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (Quotes & Excerpts)

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Profound quotes on the human experience in its harshest surroundings by the Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, taken from his highly influential book Man's Search for Meaning.

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Viktor Frankl Quote: At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.
At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.
Viktor Frankl
Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.
Viktor Frankl
In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.
Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl Quote: Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.
Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.
Viktor Frankl
At that moment I saw the plain truth and did what marked the culminating point of the first phase of my psychological reaction: I struck out my whole former life.
Viktor Frankl
Discover meaning in life in three different ways (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; (3) by the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering.
Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl Quote: The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of trick learned while mastering the art of living.
The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of trick learned while mastering the art of living.
Viktor Frankl
The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life.
Viktor Frankl
A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining….In the concentration camps…. we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.
Viktor Frankl
Man's Search for Meaning Quote: There were still naive prisoners among us who asked, to the amusement of the more seasoned ones who were there as helpers, if they could not keep a wedding ring, a medal or a good luck piece. No one could yet grasp the fact that everything would be taken away.
There were still naive prisoners among us who asked, to the amusement of the more seasoned ones who were there as helpers, if they could not keep a wedding ring, a medal or a good luck piece. No one could yet grasp the fact that everything would be taken away.
Viktor Frankl
The newly arrived prisoner experienced the tortures of other most painful emotions, all of which he tries to deaden. First of all, there was his boundless longing for his family and his home. This often could become so acute that he felt himself consumed by longing. Then there was disgust; disgust with all the ugliness which surround him, even in its mere external forms.
Viktor Frankl
I shall never forget how I was roused one night by the groans of a fellow prisoner, who threw himself about in his sleep, obviously having a horrible nightmare. Since I had always been especially sorry for people who suffered from fearful dreams or deliria, I wanted to wake the poor man. Suddenly I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do. At that moment I became intensely conscious of the fact that no dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him.
Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl Quote: The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future — his future — was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.
The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future — his future — was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.
Viktor Frankl
The story of the young woman whose death I witnessed in a concentration camp. It is a simple story. There is little to tell and it may sound as if I had invented it; but to me it seems like a poem. This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. 'I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,' she told me. 'In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.' Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, 'This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.' Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. 'I often talk to this tree,' she said to me. I was startled and didn't quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. 'Yes.' What did it say to her? She answered, 'It said to me, I am here — I am here — I am life, eternal life.'"
Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl Quote: But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.
But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.
Viktor Frankl
Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him.
Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl Quote: When we are no longer able to change a situation — just think of an incurable disease such as an inoperable cancer — we are challenged to change ourselves.
When we are no longer able to change a situation — just think of an incurable disease such as an inoperable cancer — we are challenged to change ourselves.
Viktor Frankl
When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place.
Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl Quote: What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him..
What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.
Viktor Frankl
It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. 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.
Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl Quote: 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.
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.
Viktor Frankl
An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.
Viktor Frankl
There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose.
Viktor Frankl
No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.
Viktor Frankl
Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.
Viktor Frankl
It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future – sub specie aeternitatis. And that in his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task.
Viktor Frankl
The thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone, if only for a brief time. It was born of the hopelessness of the situation, the constant danger of death looming over us daily and hourly, and the closeness of the deaths suffered by many of the others.
Viktor Frankl
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. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.
Viktor Frankl
Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.
Viktor Frankl
Apathy, the blunting of the emotions and the feeling that one could not care any more, were the symptoms arising during the second stage of the prisoner’s psychological actions, and which eventually made him insensitive to the daily and hourly beatings.
Viktor Frankl
But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.
Viktor Frankl
Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique
Viktor Frankl
From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.
Viktor Frankl
In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious ‘Yes’ in answer to my question of the existence for an ultimate purpose.
Viktor Frankl
Man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment….By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant” Albeit, very promising (and difficult): “Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.”
Viktor Frankl
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….To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent.
Viktor Frankl
Don't aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run — in the long run, I say — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.
Viktor Frankl
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way — an honorable way — in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory."
Viktor Frankl



Man's Search for Meaning Info

Published: 1947

Man's Search for Meaning is a memoir written by the Austrian holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.

The book explores the nature of meaning and how it relates to human beings in even the harshest surroundings.

Read the whole book