Top 50+ Viktor Frankl Quotes

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Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, who was born on the 26th March 1905 and died on the 2nd September 1997. His early life is notable for receiving his MD in 1930, gaining experience in psychiatric hospitals, where he supported 3000 patients a year between 1933 and 1937. He subsequently started his own practice but due to the Nazi occupation of Austria, joined the Vienna Rothschild Hospital, helping many patients escape the euthanasia programme set up by Nazi Germany, which focused on those who were mentally disabled.

Frankl survived four concentration camps including Auschwitz and after the war, worked at the Vienna Polyclinic Hospital, where he was the Head of Neurology, as well as starting up his private practice. He wrote many books during his life and the most notable was Man’s Search For Meaning, a piece based on his life and experiences of Nazi concentration camps.

He is the founder of a meaning-centered school of psychotherapy called ‘logotherapy’, widely viewed as the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy. This built on the theories of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. In 1948, Frankl achieved his goal of a Ph.D in philosophy and enjoyed world wide acclaim, being invited to lecture at important universities across the world, including Harvard.

1. “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

2. “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.”

3. “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. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”

4. “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

5. “But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

6. “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”

7. “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”

8. “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.”

9. “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

10. “What is to give light must endure burning.”

11. “So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

12. “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

13. “For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

14. “No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.”

15. “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. 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.”

16. “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

17. “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

18. “If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.”

19. “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

20. “I do not forget any good deed done to me & I do not carry a grudge for a bad one.”

21. “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that 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.”

22. “To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.”

23. “Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.”

24. “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”.”

25. “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. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”

26. “Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.”

27. “But today’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and, in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in so doing blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness. If one is not cognizant of this difference and holds that an individual’s value stems only from his present usefulness, then, believe me, one owes it only to personal inconsistency not to plead for euthanasia along the lines of Hitler’s program, that is to say, ‘mercy’ killing of all those who have lost their social usefulness, be it because of old age, incurable illness, mental deterioration, or whatever handicap they may suffer. Confounding the dignity of man with mere usefulness arises from conceptual confusion that in turn may be traced back to the contemporary nihilism transmitted on many an academic campus and many an analytical couch.”

28. “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”

29. “It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.”

30. “I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsiblity on the West Coast.”

31. “For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”

32. “A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”

33. “What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.”

34. “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.”

35. “Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of the their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”

36. “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.”

37. “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.”

38. “We cannot, after all, judge a biography by its length, by the number of pages in it; we must judge by the richness of the contents…Sometimes the ‘unfinisheds’ are among the most beautiful symphonies.”

39. “A man’s concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease.”

40. “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

41. “Man is originally characterized by his “search for meaning” rather than his “search for himself.” The more he forgets himself—giving himself to a cause or another person—the more human he is. And the more he is immersed and absorbed in something or someone other than himself the more he really becomes himself.”

42. “It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”

43. “Ironically enough, in the same way that fear brings to pass what one is afraid of, likewise a forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes… Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself.”

44. “Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone.”

45. “To be sure, man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life. There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”

46. “I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.”

47. “Sunday neurosis, that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.”

48. “If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”

49. “Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”

50. “At the beginning of human history, man lost some of the basic animal instincts in which an animal’s behavior is embedded and by which it is secured. Such security, like paradise, is closed to man forever; man has to make choices. In addition to this, however, man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people tell him to do (totalitarianism).”

51. “Fear makes come true that which one is afraid of.”

52. “Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn.”

53. “To suffer unecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.”

54. “A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth-that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which a man can aspire.

55. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words,”The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

56. “There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose”

57. “As a professor in two fields, neurology and psychiatry, I am fully aware of the extent to which man is subject to biological, psychological and sociological conditions. But in addition to being a professor in two fields I am a survivor of four camps – concentration camps, that is – and as such I also bear witness to the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable.”

58. “The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear anymore—except his God.”

59. “Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.”

60. “To the European, it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’ Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy, last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation.”

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