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What Makes Life Meaningful?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action… There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in numbers, but they offer sufficient proof 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, to choose one’s own way… It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

From Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl (1905-1997), an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who founded logotherapy. Frankl was a survivor of the Holocaust, having been imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp, and later Kaufering and Durkheim (both affiliated with the Dachau concentration camp in Upper Bavaria) from October 1944 to April 1945. Having endured unspeakable suffering in the concentration camps, Frankl discovered meaning even in the most horrific, most dehumanizing situations. This belief, that there was meaning even in suffering, became one of the foundational concepts of logotherapy. According to Frankl, the striving to find meaning in life is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force for all humans.


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