Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who spent three years in Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau. He survived the war and went on to write, among other books, Man's Search for Meaning. In this classic text, Frankl argues that finding meaning in one's life is the cure for many neuroses.
Logotherapy, the form of treatment that Frankl founded, focuses on the patient's future. Whereas psychoanalysis is retrospective and introspective—trying to discover the cause of a patient's neurosis—logotherapy attempts to help the patient find meaning in his life, for someone who has something or someone to live for lives well.
Frankl discovered this first hand in the death camps. Prisoners who lost the will to live died. Those who kept the purpose of their existence before them—and there is always a purpose, regardless of the circumstance—lived. He writes, “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. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually.”
Frankl had the revelation, one winter night marching through the icy wind with barely any clothes, that love for his wife was his meaning. “In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.”
Frankl's first wife was killed at Auschwitz. His second wife Eleonore, whom he married after the war, was a practicing Catholic. Find your meaning this Christmas.