I first read this most challenging gem from the existentialist canon two decades ago at the age of thirty-five. Naturally at that time I was deeply moved by Frankl’s gut wrenching and heartbreaking personal account of the horrors of the Holocaust… and of his heroic efforts to find freedom and dignity in the face of the most insidious and unfathomable evil, an evil so total that it sought and almost succeeded in destroying everything that he was, along with all hope for anything that he or the entire world might become.
Being a sensitive and decent person, it felt sufficient at the time for me to deeply admire this special man, to pay my sincere respects to the millions of innocent victims of the Holocaust, and to be filled with profound gratitude for my own privileged existence. But, although I fully embraced these important lessons in resilience, humility, and gratitude, I was still too young to grasp the full import of the question that Frankl puts before us. Allow me to explain…
Twenty years have since transpired… and I have gone about the business of life with a mixed bag of successes and failures. In the meantime, Doctor Frankl’s writing waited patiently on my bookshelf until the present day when, for some inexplicable reason, I felt compelled to read him again. Now, at the age of fifty-five, most of my years are behind me. Now painfully aware of my own mortality, I came to realize the profound ignorance that engulfed me at the age of thirty-five. Enthralled with my own worldly ambitions, not yet having suffered my mid-life crisis, and assuming that most of my years were still ahead of me (and thus unconcerned with my own distant mortality), I was too ignorant to realize that I was chasing the wrong prizes. The problem was that I was still pursuing happiness. Only now do I realize that happiness alone is too narrow and shallow a pursuit (although it may be the occasional reward for doing my best). Only now do I realize that the real meaning of life is to live a life that matters.
Man’s Search for Meaning is essential reading for every serious student of life. It will inspire you to face the ultimate question with courage and without pretenses. Importantly, you will learn that the question that confronts us all is not “What is the meaning of life?” Rather, the real question is: “What is the meaning of my life, given my unique endowment of blessings and burdens?” No matter our individual circumstances, the meaning of our lives is an open question that is answered emphatically, for better or worse, with everything we do or fail to do each and every day. Furthermore, no one else can give you the answer, but… Read this book and you will find priceless insights into the true nature of life and the proper direction for your authentic inquiry into the question of meaning. In short, the only way to create meaning is through LOVE, sometimes in the face of horrific, unfathomable suffering. The answer is that simple and that hard.