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Frankl's Three Sources of Meaning


Explanations > Meaning > Frankl's Three Sources of Meaning

Love | Work | Suffering | So what


Victor Frankl wrote a famous book, Man's Search for Meaning, in which he identified three basic sources through which people find meaning in life. He said:

'A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how".'

It is all the more remarkable, perhaps, that Frankl's inspiration came from surviving a Nazi concentration camp.


Love is the strongest bond between people and will lead to wonderful inspiration and great sacrifice. Many of the great works of art were inspired by love, including more general love such as of nature or God.

Frankl himself used his love of his wife to keep up his spirits and also noticed how other prisoners used their connection with others to stay positive in the face of extremely negative circumstances.


Without work, people easily fall into an aimless existence. Work provides both short- and longer-term objectives and completion of these can result in a deep satisfaction and sense of value.

Frankl had the manuscript of a book he had written confiscated. He used this as a spur to re-write the book, using every scrap of paper he could find.


Suffering as a source of meaning is both curious and also understandable when it is seen in the light of pain that leads to enlightenment. There is more than one religion in the world that is founded on the suffering of its prophet. A key effect is that with a loss of outer freedom, we often turn inwards and find meaning in places where external cruelty cannot reach. In the manner of the Stoics, we may also reframe suffering as our 'task', of 'bearing the cross'. and gaining a sense of achievement simply by surviving.

Frankl's concentration camp experiences were no doubt fraught with unbelievable suffering and it is remarkable that he could find meaning. He did note that it was unavoidable suffering that led to meaning, thus obviating self-flagellation or other privation. Frankl quoted Dostoevski: 'There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.'

So what?

Find meaning in your relationships and work, and when you are down find meaning there.

Help others in adversity to find meaning and they will be forever grateful.

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