Man’s Search for Meaning … Wait a minute

4 min readFeb 23, 2017


Man’s Search for Meaning” is a hugely popular book which has influenced Western culture on the meaning of life. “Viktor Frankl chronicles his experiences as an World War II Auschwitz concentration camp inmate. His therapeutic method involves identifying a positive purpose in life and imaging its outcome. According to Frankl the way a prisoner imagined the future affected his longevity.”

Frankl recommends three different ways to pursue meaning: through our creations, experiences, and attitudes.

a) Meaning through creations

Frankl writes that “The logotherapist’s role consists in widening and broadening the visual field of the patient so that the whole spectrum of meaning and values becomes conscious and visible to him”. A major source of meaning is through the value of all that we create, achieve, and accomplish.

b) Meaning through experiences

Frankl writes “Let us ask a mountain-climber who has beheld the alpine sunset and is so moved by the splendor of nature that he feels cold shudders running down his spine — let us ask him whether after such an experience his life can ever again seem wholly meaningless” (Frankl,1965).

c) Meaning through attitudes

Frankl argued that we always have the freedom to find meaning through attitudes - even in apparently meaningless situations. For example, an elderly, depressed patient who could not overcome the loss of his wife was helped by the following conversation with Frankl:

Frankl asked “What would have happened if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you.”

“Oh,” replied the patient, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!”

Fankl continued, “You see such a suffering has been spared her; and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving her and mourning her.” The man said no word, but shook Frankl’s hand and calmly left his office (Frankl, 1992).

That is, according to Frankl, “We can discover this meaning in life in three different 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” and that “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”.

However, it seems like points 1) and 2) above have one’s meaning tied to one’s “performance” (or really any external condition). As my friend Raymond Sigrist says:
“To realize that one is without sin is a daunting experience. Sin gives us a scoreboard, and we feel lost if we start thinking there was never any score to keep. “Faith not works” means the scoring we do based on our works (and our avoidance of “sin”) is a total waste. There is no performance based liberation. We find this to be true in Zhuangzi as well as in the apostle Paul. We are loved by the ground of our being for no reason, it is unconditional.”

And 3) above seems to be hinting towards complete openness and awareness to the present moment. Although, I may be putting my own spin on that interpretation.

Look no further than this article that just came out on the pernicious idea of finding meaning in work or producing something. Its seems straight out of Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death.

Reflecting on Ravikant’s words, I realized that the desire to build something that would outlive me was all-consuming: I’d tried to make as much money as possible. I’d wanted to build a great company, just because I thought I had it in me. I wanted to write a book. I wanted to do something — anything — to leave my mark on the world.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But understanding my motivations helped me keep my ego in check and, more importantly, adjust the bar on what I needed to accomplish to be “successful” in my own mind. It was okay to set my sights on smaller goals. I could start a small business, but I didn’t have to try to be the next Elon Musk. I could focus on writing a book without worrying about how it would be received. And as soon as I came to recognize this, the amount of struggle in my everyday life dissipated.

Another article on “Treating your job as a “calling” is a blueprint for burnout and regret”:

Employees who treat their work as a calling risk burnout and discouragement, and are at risks of abandoning their profession, according to a paper in the Academy of Management Journal by Kira Schabram and Sally Maitlis, a pair of business professors from the University of Washington and Oxford, respectively.

Employees who were more realistic about their own abilities and aspirations. They tended to react less intensely to the suffering inherent in the work, and instead of seeing themselves as saviors of animals, found reward in improving themselves. They “focused on learning the work of animal welfare, gradually increasing their mastery and impact and eventually creating roles with an extended reach into the community,” the authors said.




Buddhism, mixed with my current interests in economics, privilege, immigration, etc. Email <my username>