Stories & Reflections
Terrible as it was, Viktor Frankl’s experience in Auschwitz reinforced what was already one of his key ideas.
Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.
The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning:
a] in work (doing something significant)
b] in love (caring for another person)
c] and in courage during difficult times.
Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it. At one point, Frankl writes that a person “may remain brave, dignified and unselfish, or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal.” He concedes that only a few prisoners of the Nazis were able to do the former, “but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.”
Finally, Frankl’s most enduring insight, one that I have called on often in my own life and in countless counseling situations: Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.