Finding Purpose in Life – Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl’s central theme was the necessity of finding purpose in life. As he tells the powerful story in Man’s Search for Meaning, he learned that this was the only way to survive the tortures of a Nazi concentration camp.

In creating his own form of psychotherapy, which he called logotherapy, he identified three ways of arriving at meaning in one’s life. They are work, love and the one he believed was most important, the ability to rise above oneself.

When faced with tragedy and situations that were unalterable, he believed that a person could escape the feeling of being a helpless victim. The key was to find meaning in the suffering itself and to define a guiding purpose that could change the direction of one’s life.

These are the themes of this brief video. It is an excerpt from a talk he gave to a group of Canadian Youth Corps volunteers in 1972. The quality is poor, and the excerpt begins in mid-sentence. Nevertheless, it captures the spirit of Frankl’s own driving purpose in helping people change their lives.

Do you think this is a feasible way to turn around the feeling of being helpless in the face of depression? Has this idea aided your search for a way to begin recovery?

5 Responses to “Finding Purpose in Life – Viktor Frankl”

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  1. Noch Noch says:

    agreed – once i decided that my “suffering” was the beginning of something “greater”, i started to embrace it, and search for what is “greater” within me, and stopped feeling so helpless and a victim. that was the day i began my recovery…

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, Noch –

      That’s fortunate – to see the suffering itself as part of something greater. So often I’ve been stuck trying to get rid of the suffering altogether, as if that could never be part of a meaningful life.


  2. Judy says:

    I loved this, John! I do believe that this is a way to turn around feelings of helplessness. Sometimes I stop and think about the journey my depression has taken me on and I am awed, mostly because of the people that I’ve met along the way who have been of so much help and also the people I’ve met whom I’ve been able to help. Healing myself has allowed me to be of use to others – a purpose greater than myself. I also feel like I’ve become a much more spiritual person than I was when I was part of an organized religion; I found out that the “organization” is not the same thing as the spirit. What Frankl says is so basic to emotional health and growth. I know examples of both people who have never seemed to have a higher purpose than themselves and those who certainly do possess that quality and the difference is very striking. Thanks for sharing this.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, Judy –

      I loved this too and posted right after seeing it. Finding a purpose in communicating with people about depression is a mainstay for me. The problem is: how high can you aim when you’re deeply depressed and convinced everything is hopeless? I’ve always had a lot of plans for big things, and carried some of them off, but those purposes never helped me resolve depression. Yet when I did feel recovered at long last, I could devote myself more completely to writing than had ever been possible. So higher purpose is part of the turnaround but not the most decisive part for me.

      Thanks for commenting.



  1. Storied Mind says:

    Finding Purpose in Life – Viktor Frankl…

    Finding Purpose in Life – Viktor Frankl Viktor Frankl’s central theme was the necessity of…

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