The Wisdom of Viktor Frankl

Photo Credit: Katharina Vesley

These are among my favorite Viktor Frankl observations:

To the European, it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to “be happy.” But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to “be happy.'”

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves. 

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it. 

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. 

Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time. 

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.

The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is. 

A human being is a decision-making being. 

Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for. 

Life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives. 

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”

For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. 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. 

If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete. 

Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human. 

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. 

Since Auschwitz, we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima, we know what is at stake. 

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. 

The last of human freedoms – the ability to chose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances. 

Man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips. 

Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. 

Each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. 

Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. 

When I was taken to the concentration camp of Auschwitz, a manuscript of mine ready for publication was confiscated. Certainly, my deep desire to write this manuscript anew helped me to survive the rigors of the camps I was in. 

No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. 

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To learn more about Viktor Frankl’s life and work, please click here.

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