Category Archives: positive psychology

Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning

Just read Viktor Frankl’s Man Search for Meaning. A beautiful and moving book, although not because of literary or theoretical merits. It’s the (real) story that this little book tells that touches us.

At the end of the book (after the concentration camp narrative) the author presents a brief introduction to logotherapy. I’m not very impressed about it. One thing that I find interesting, though, is that there are strong parallels between Logotherapy and contemporary Positive Psychology. For example: Frankl argues that happiness does not depend on the objective qualities of one’s situation in life (such as how much money one makes, how much recognition one gets in one’s profession, how smart and beautiful one’s companion is, etc.)  Rather, happiness is always relative to how one evaluates each event, as being a blessing or a disgrace. Frankl’s examples: moments of extraordinary joy in the concentration camp when one gets a spoon of soup from the bottom of the pot (thus: with beans!) or when one realizes that one is being transferred to a concentration camp that doesn’t have gas chambers. Yes, one can be genuinely happy while being sent to a concentration camp, if one feels very fortunate for evading the possibility of gas chambers. It’s a relative improvement on the previous situation.

Another parallel concerns the fact that happiness is not conceived as the total sum of pleasures, not even of positive emotions. Both Frankl and Martin Seligman (in his book “Authentic happiness”) argue that happiness ultimately depends on the possibility of attributing meaning to one’s life. Having an encompassing sense of one’s mission in life (“trascendence”), whether based on religious views or not, always helps us to make sense of one’s everyday experience and to give coherence to the story of one’s life.

PS: After writing these notes  I just happened to listen to a Shrink Rap Radio episode that deals with the same issue: