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My takeaway

Change your perspective by switching the question “What do I expect from life?” to “What does life expect from me?” What matters is not the meaning of life in general but the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. Meaning in life can be found in (1) by creating a work, (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone, and (3) by the attitude you take toward suffering.

My notes

These are my informal notes from Man’s Search for Meaning. It contains a mix of key highlights as well as my own thoughts and lessons.

  • Life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones.
  • You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
  • There are three possible sources for meaning: in work, in love, and in suffering.
  • Life is a quest for meaning.
  • Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.
  • Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.
  • Humor is another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.
  • The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living.
  • “In Auschwitz I had laid down a rule for myself which proved to be a good one and which most of my comrades later followed. I generally answered all kinds of questions truthfully. But I was silent about anything that was not expressly asked for. If I were asked my age, I gave it. If asked about my profession, I said “doctor,” but did not elaborate.”
  • Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.
  • Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.
  • The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.
  • “What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”
  • Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
  • The meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way.
  • No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response.
  • Human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death.