Honoring the Forefathers: Viktor Frankl and Men’s Quest for Meaning

Sometimes, I read or hear about criticism stating that Positive Psychology tends to ignore its forefathers (and mothers), all those, e.g., philosophers, sociologists, and psychologists from other traditions that have generated valuable insights on “the good life”. I’m tend not to agree here. If at all, I sense a bit of Americentrism – but that’s in the nature of the beast, I reckon.
Viktor FranklSo, today I like to honor Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who founded Logotherapy (“meaning therapy”) and certainly is one of the biggest influences around the letter M (for Meaning) in Martin Seligman’s PERMA outline of Positive Psychology. Here are some of his most memorable quotes:

Viktor Frankl on Freedom and Dignity

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.

Viktor Frankl on Success

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.

Viktor Frankl on Choice and Growth

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.

Viktor Frankl on Meaning and Responsibility

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

Viktor Frankl on Meaning and being Other-Focused

By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic “the self-transcendence of human existence.” It denotes the fact that 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. The more one forgets himself–by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love–the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.

Viktor Frankl on Purpose in Life

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 is his specific opportunity to implement it.

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