Viktor Frankl and the Power of Choice

Viktor Frankl and the Power of Choice

Lately I’ve seen a lot on the web about Viktor Frankl’s classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning.  Perhaps it’s ‘come’ to me because it’s one of my all time favorites.  In cleaning out my basement I just came across a paper I wrote in social work school (many moons ago) on The Self that incorporates many of his brilliant concepts and quotes.  Reading this paper now struck me as to how much I’ve developed, grown and been guided by many of his ideas and theories on pain and suffering, external  circumstances, choice, responses, responsibility and meaning.

I guess it’s no wonder then that my life’s work on a personal and professional level, my innermost struggles and my deep interest has for as long as I can remember, revolverd around this theme of overcoming adversity, and rising above one’s challenges and creating a good life despite…   This has resonated for me my entire life.

My most exciting new venture in this area is seeking out and interviewing people who personify this theme.  And then writing up and putting out there on this blog their messages of coping, finding new meaning and rebuilding their lives through and beyond their challenges and pain. My hope is that their words teach, touch and inspire you as they do me.  And that hopefully you walk away with a new way of looking at things.

In my most recent interview by Julie Genovese, choice was one of her poignant concepts in guiding her towards creating and therefore living a more positive life.

Choice is one of Viktor Frankl’s big ideas.  He speaks of being in the concentration camps and having everything taken away except 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.   And there were always choices to make.  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….”      

“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life.  It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish.   Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal.  Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forego the opportunities of attaining the values that a difficult situation may afford him.”

There is obviously something much deeper than one’s circumstances in shaping our lives.  Frankl goes on to say, “man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.”

There are those who are resigned to believing that some people are just lucky enough to be born with strength of character or an optimistic nature.  But to me the issue is, how can we develop these traits of strength and optimism?  How do we teach ourselves to view things differently, to become of stronger nature?  I believe we all can do this, if we want to.  We can work on our attitude; we can work on letting go of some of the suffering, as the great quote (unknown author) states, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”  And we can certainly take steps towards self-improvement so we don’t remain stuck in our misery.  (That’s where coaching help can come in – plug for us coaches!)

One final powerful idea stated by Frankl – “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.”

This reminds me of what Julie said, “For many years I was always looking for how I can be helped because I thought I needed help.  Instead I realized I had something to give; it was me and my experience and my heart, and that was enough.”

Are we rising up to the occasion of Life?  What is life’s expectation of us?  Are we Choosing to make it as good and meaningful as possible even in the shadow of our problems?


There’s a lot of food for thought here.  I hope you will share some of your thoughts by commenting.  Please share this piece on facebook/twitter.  And of course I thank you for stopping by and reading.  I hope something resonates with you and that you take something positive away. 

11 thoughts on “Viktor Frankl and the Power of Choice

  1. Jimmy says:

    Hi Harriet,

    This book has become one of my favorite book as well. I was only introduced to this at the beginning of this year. But it has captured my attention.

    One of the most fascinating thing I find about this book is Frankl himself. How can a man who he himself was tortured and mistreated still have the awareness and energies to study the behaviours of his fellow human beings.

    Not only that, he managed to compile his notes and wrote a classic for all of us to learn. Without the tenacity and resilience of this man, I think the world would have missed out on more. It is not only a book about the last of the human freedom, but also the great undying spirit of human beings. We are all capable of that.


    1. Hi Jimmy,
      I agree that it is pretty incredible how Frankl who himself was tortured was able to study his fellow inmates. And yes we are all capable of greatness.
      We can all tap into our great spirit and resilience, some more easily than others, but the potential is certainly there.
      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your interesting thoughts.
      ‘See’ you again. Look forward to your writings.

  2. ali516 says:

    Wow, about 10 years ago I was introduced to “Man’s Search for Meanin” by the late Dr. Robin “Doc” Herman. After reading it and applying the metaphoric principles of Frankl’s defintion of incarceration, it awakend so much in me because I was allowing myself to be incarcerated on so many levels. Doc Herman used Frankls work as a metaphor for ex-offenders who were faced with challenges of resocializations back into ther societies. We found in our work that people limit themselves when they are problem solving or making a change. The focus is usually on their conditon and not on their attituded about the conditon. Thei very quote gave me freedom to choose and freedom to face my demons “the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Thus began Khadijah’s Search for meaning.

    1. Hi Khadijah,
      Welcome to this blog. So glad you came by to read and comment. Thank you for your wonderful and insightful comment.
      In general people focus on their plight/condition rather than on their attitude. Sounds like you’ve been able to successfully use Frankl’s philosophy of the ‘last of the human freedoms…’ to ‘choose’ your way towards a better life and rebuild successfully. Kudos to you.
      May your search for meaning continue towards Goodness and Happiness.
      Come by again. You’ve got a lot to offer.

      1. Khadijah Ali says:

        Wow, I posted this a year ago and I am just now getting back, due to another post, thank you. One thing I have learned is…. it is not what happens to you yet, what do you do with that situation, I have achoice as to what type of attitude I will have when something sad happens, suffering happens, disappointments happen…. we have a choice… and I choose to maintain my dignity and find a peaceful loving way to handle most situations….I am not perfect and I do have to remind myself continually….it is a life worth saving I am a ife worth saving….Do what ever I can to be helpful ….If at all humanly possible. Thanks Doc Herman for introducing me to a new way of thinking and behaving….your Twin Sista Khadijah

  3. Sally Sinden says:

    Good morning–With the emphasis on “good.” I just wanted to let you know that this morning while walking my dogs I had what was to me a revelation. I’ve told you a little about how I tend to pick on myself. True to form, I found myself thinking about how silly it was to leave such a lengthy blog yesterday! But through the process of wondering why I felt embarassed by it, I realized that I should be journaling which is something you suggested to me a few days ago. I realized that I need an outlet where I can blog myself crazy and never feel like I’ve taken up too much space with myself. So out of a nagging feeling of embarassment came something good…a positive answer to a need.

    I do want to stay in touch with your site though because it has been such a tremendous help to me in picking myself up from what could have been a prolonged lack of motivation with the resulting predictable feelings of fear, failure and depression. When I first contacted you I was literally paralyzed with all the negaive feelings that come with depression. I’m on the road to something better…productive days with as many moments as possible spent in the “now” and improving my thoughts and behavior for the good.along the way. I look forward to this day with positive anticipation…which is unbelievable considering where I was at just a few days ago. Finding your website has been a God-send for me.

    1. Hi Sally,
      I’m glad something ‘good’ came out of your “nagging feeling of embarrassment”. I think a journal is a great way of releasing and capturing all that’s inside.
      I’m so glad you have found this helpful. Please do stay in touch. And remember – baby steps, pat your shoulders with pride, revel in small achievements because slowly they add up to big ones, and One Day At A Time.
      All the best.

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