Love is the ultimate goal

Excerpt from Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

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This is an excerpt from the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, translated by Ilse Lasch.

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

In front of me a man stumbled and those following him fell on top of him. The guard rushed over and used his whip on them all. Thus my thoughts were interrupted for a few minutes. But soon my soul founds its way back from the prisoner’s existence to another world, and I resumed talk with my loved one: I asked her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in return, and I answered.

“Stop!” We had arrived at our work site. Everybody rushed into the dark hut in the hope of getting a fairly decent tool. Each prisoner got a spade or a pickaxe.

“Can’t you hurry up, you pigs?” Soon we had resumed the previous day’s positions in the ditch. The frozen ground cracked under the point of the pickaxes, and sparks flew. The men were silent, their brains numb.

My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing—which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.

I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. “Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Man’s Search for Meaning – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Based on his own experience and the stories of his patients, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. At the heart of his theory, known as logotherapy, is a conviction that the primary human drive is not pleasure but the pursuit of what we find meaningful. Man’s Search for Meaning has become one of the most influential books in America; it continues to inspire us all to find significance in the very act of living.

Copyright © 1946 by Viktor E. Frankl.

Translated by: Ilse Lasch

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

What is the meaning of life?

Have you ever wondered why people continue to fight to survive in the harshest conditions? As I was reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, he discusses how having a personal meaning for life motivates people to stay alive even in the harshest conditions like concentration camps.

As a psychologist and concentration camp survivor, Viktor is able to reflect on his time in the camps to understand what motivated people to survive against all odds.

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Main impacts

These are the main topics that stood out to me:

  1. Humans are resilient
  2. You need meaning to survive
  3. Meaning is completely personal and unique

Keep reading for more details on each.

Humans are resilient

Humans can endure far more than you can imagine. Unfortunately, concentration camps showed how much people can survive and what people are willing to do to each other.

There’s this fascinating line from the book that talks about how all the doctors and medical professionals found out that the textbooks lied to them. It turned out that they really could stay awake longer or could do more work with less food and water than they ever thought was possible.

It’s a terrible thing to have experienced. People don’t want to live through hardship or see how much suffering they can endure. None of us want a life that forces us to be resilient or show strength.

But I also think we are all far more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. When push comes to shove, we will find a way to survive.

Finding their motivation

Concentration camps show the extreme of what humans have gone through, which is why it was an interesting place to see why people continued to fight to stay alive. It provided an opportunity to see what truly motivated people to survive.

Sometimes people discuss how the pursuit of pleasure is the meaning or focus of life. But in a concentration camp, there’s no longer any pleasure. So pleasure can no longer be a viable reason for why people live and survive.

As Viktor is a psychologist and concentration camp survivor, he was able to take an intimate look and reflect on what helped people survive and why some were able to persist through it all.

You need meaning to survive

As mentioned above, Viktor is a psychologist and after surviving the concentration camps he came up with his own theory about life called logotherapy. Logotherapy is a theory that says everyone needs meaning in their life to survive.

Life doesn’t revolve around the pursuit of pleasure or a grand ideal, but rather that everyone needs some kind of meaning in their life.

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Your personal meaning can be anything — a person/relationship, a belief, your work/art/contributions, a higher ideal/religion, etc. There’s no one meaning to life, but everyone has their own. It can be whatever you think is meaningful or brings purpose to your life.

Everyone needs meaning and without it, people often lose the will to live. In the concentration camps, once people lost their focus or meaning, they often lost the will to live. For instance when they lost all hope or all of their family, or if the war didn’t end on the date they expected (maybe because of a dream or some sign), they often became so discouraged they stopped fighting to live.

Viktor talks about how difficult it was to watch people lose hope and their meaning for life. It was obvious when people gave up their will to live.

But there were many who had a reason to keep fighting. Each person’s reason or meaning was unique but everyone had something.

Meaning is completely personal and unique

As mentioned above, your meaning can be anything — a person, a belief, your work/art/contributions, a higher ideal/religion, etc. It’s anything that provides meaning or purpose to your life.

Everyone’s meaning is unique and personal. There is no universal meaning, just a universal need for meaning. Your religion or personal values maybe your personal meaning for life, but that doesn’t apply to everyone.

It think it’s powerful to understand that your meaning for life isn’t the same as everyone else’s. Even if your belief in making the world a better place (or any other value driven purpose) is what gives you meaning and may be the most important part of your life, you likely don’t share that with others. Some people may share a similar meaning to you, but everyone’s meaning is unique and manifests in their own way.

I feel like many disagreements stem from mismatched priorities or the level of importance placed on the topic. You may feel like it’s the most important thing (especially if it directly affects you), whereas others may not place the same value on it or simply value something else more. The difference in value can lead to feeling like others don’t care, but maybe it’s a matter of them caring about other topics more.

Finding your meaning

You need to discover your own meaning, whatever provides you with a purpose. There is no right or wrong meaning to life, nor any singular correct meaning; anything that works for you can be your meaning for life.

If you are unsure of your meaning for life, I would encourage you to take time reflecting on what’s most important to you and why you’re living this life. I personally love journaling, it helps me sort through my thoughts. You can read about the power of journaling and writing in my previous post HERE.

Meanings can also evolve or change throughout your life. It may not stay constant. As you change, grow, and develop, your values and meaning may also change. It’s important to revisit and re-evaluate what gives your life meaning.

The only true danger is when you have no meaning for your life. That’s when people are at the highest risk for giving up completely. If you feel like life is meaningless, please speak to a medical or mental healthcare professional.

Final thoughts

I found this book really interesting. It took the very difficult topic of concentration camps and looked at it through a psychological lens. This was much more a philosophical or psychological book about the importance of having meaning in your life rather than a book purely about concentration camps.

If you’re looking for something purely about the concentration camp experience or World War II, this may not be the right book for you. But if you’re looking for a discussion on the meaning of life and why people fight to stay alive, then this is the right book for you. If you’re interested in why people are able to endure extreme situations and what keeps them motivated, then I would recommend this book.

I think if you approach the book with the right mindset, you can gain so much from it. Personally, I found it sparked a lot of thoughts and reflections on my own life and how others live.

I really appreciated how it emphasized that everyone’s meaning for life is unique rather than trying to justify a universal meaning for life. We’re not all the same and it makes sense that we’d each have our own motivation for life.


You are the greatest woman I’ve ever met

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This is an excerpt from the book Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou.

We reached the middle of the block and were enveloped in the stinging acid aroma of vinegar from the pickle factory on the corner of Fillmore and Fulton streets. I had walked ahead. My mother stopped me and said, “Baby.”

I walked back to her.

“Baby, I’ve been thinking and now I am sure. You are the greatest woman I’ve ever met.”

I looked down at the pretty little woman, with her perfect makeup and diamond earrings, and a silver fox scarf. She was admired by most people in San Francisco’s black community and even some whites liked and respected her.

She continued. “You are very kind and very intelligent and those elements are not always found together. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, and my mother-yes, you belong in that category. Here give me a kiss.”

She kissed me on the lips and turned and jaywalked across the street to her beige and brown Pontiac. I pulled myself together and walked down to Fillmore Street. I crossed there and waited for the number 22 streetcar.

My policy of independence would not allow me to accept money or even a ride from my mother, but I welcomed her and her wisdom. Now I thought of what she had said. I thought, Suppose she is right? She’s very intelligent and often said she didn’t fear anyone enough to lie. Suppose I really am going to become somebody. Imagine.

At that moment, when I could still taste the red rice, I decided the time had come to stop my dangerous habits like smoking, drinking, and cursing. I did stop cursing but some years would pass before I came to grips with drinking and smoking.

Imagine I might really become somebody. Someday.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Mom & Me & Mom – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

For the first time, Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence—a presence absent during much of Angelou’s early life. When her marriage began to crumble, Vivian famously sent three-year-old Maya and her older brother away from their California home to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years, but their reunion, a decade later, began a story that has never before been told. In Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou dramatizes her years reconciling with the mother she preferred to simply call “Lady,” revealing the profound moments that shifted the balance of love and respect between them.

Delving into one of her life’s most rich, rewarding, and fraught relationships, Mom & Me & Mom explores the healing and love that evolved between the two women over the course of their lives, the love that fostered Maya Angelou’s rise to the heights.

Copyright © 2013 by Maya Angelou.

More details on Goodreads can be found here.