The Search for Meaning According to Viktor Frankl

The meaning of life lies precisely in being in search of something that can give us meaning.
The Search for Meaning According to Viktor Frankl
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 08 February, 2024

So often we’re focused on changing our circumstances that it’s easy for us to forget how much power we have to enjoy the present regardless of what the future holds. One of the greatest proponents of this idea was the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.

In his book The Man in Search of Meaning, Frankl explains the experiences that led him to create speech therapy. Speech therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which finding meaning is understood to be the human’s primary motivation in life. Viktor Frankl, a prisoner for many years, felt that the best existence is a naked existence. 

After being imprisoned for so long, how could Frankl accept that life was worth living? He had lost everything, seen everything he cared about destroyed, suffered hunger, cold, endless brutality, and was close to dying. Yet, Frankl managed to find meaning in his existence. 

“Someone who has a reason to live will almost always find the how.”


According to the psychiatrist, the search for meaning in life is the purpose of life. Once man realizes this fact, he will aspire to find other people on the same search for meaning.

When our sense of existence is frustrating or not making any sense, we yearn for power. We desire for power and pleasure, and these desires take over our behavior entirely. The search for happiness because an end in itself, which gives rise to more frustration.

viktor frankl

According to Viktor Frankl, how can we transform our existence?

One thing that brings us happiness is meeting a goal we set for ourselves. What bring us happiness is directly searching for happiness. The door to happiness opens outwards, and those who try to knock it down are locked out.

Optimism is a key piece of Frankl’s idea. In his philosophy, life is a series of opportunities that we must respond to. It’s necessary to look for the best choices in life and work with what we’re given. Some people view the most defining part of life as the ‘what’, but Frankl says that the most important parts of life are the ‘how’.

“Do you believe that the meaning of life is none other than passion, which one day fills our heart, our soul, and our body, and then burns forever, until death? If we have lived that passion, perhaps we haven’t lived in vain.”

-Sandor Marai-

Viktor Frankl’s Aspirations

According to Frankl, love is the highest goal we can aspire to in life. This fundamental faith allows us to make up for all failed efforts, decisions, or actions in our lives. To Frankl, the most significance is placed on how people respond to the questions life asks us, not what is being asked. Happiness is the result of having meaning. 

Values play a fundamental role in Frankl’s theories. Values that are particularly important include attitude, creation, and experience, particularly the experience of love.

These values make an inner journey possible. As we embark on this journey, we must place our faith in the future and the potential of finding love and meaning in our personal lives.

This relationship between inner strength (values, faith, love, meaning) and the future is the link that defines the individual. It allows us to recognize ourselves as unique beings.

“The evaluation of oneself is the starting point in the search for meaning.”

-Viktor Frankl-

viktor frankl search for meaning

What does Frankl say about internal attitude?

Our internal attitude is a result of our personal choices. It’s the freedom to become whatever kind of person you want to be. Our attitudes reach beyond a human’s physical limitations.

In order for people to develop the best attitude, Frankl gave a series of fundamental teachings.

Frankl’s nine most important ideas

  • Choose to have hope. We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can always choose our attitude in whatever situation that arises. We we can’t change a situation, we’re challenged to change ourselves.
  • Know your why. Ask yourself, why am I alive? Every day we should get up and ask ourselves why we get up and why we’re here. “Those with a why can tolerate almost any ‘how’.
  • Learn to cry. Tears aren’t a sign of weakness. They emanate from a soul that isn’t afraid to break. “There’s no need to be ashamed of tears. They testify that a man had the greatest courage, the courage to suffer.”
  • Don’t settle for being a part of the  crowd. The world is upside down. Sometimes, doing what everyone else is doing is crazy. “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal.”
  • Live with emotion. We give meaning to life in how we answer the questions it asks us. Life poses a challenge to each person. That person can only respond with their own actions.
  • Fill your day with acts of kindness. Kindness has a purpose. We have opportunities to do hundreds of small altruistic acts every day. These acts fill our lives with meaning.
  • See beyond yourself. We find true meaning when we transcend our own limits. The more a person forgets himself by giving himself to a cause or another person, the more he grows as a person.
  • Feel other’s pain. Suffering is painful, however irrelevant someone’s problem might seem to an outsider. Regardless, have empathy for other’s pain, even if their tragedy doesn’t seem so tragic to you.
  • We can change even when life is difficult. We can create a meaningful life full of meaning, love, and purpose.

“I have my own version of optimism. If I can’t open one door, I open another or I make another door. Something marvelous will come regardless of how dark the present is.” 

-Rabindranath Tagore-

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.