Quotes from Yes to Life by Viktor Frankl

Thank you to everyone for your kind wishes on my last post and other platforms. It’s truly encouraging. πŸ’›

Resurfacing for a moment, I have some quotes to share from the newly published Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything. It’s the first English translation of some lectures by Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, most known for his book Man’s Search for Meaning.

Later I’d like to film a video with my comments, but for now, here are some things he said that—at the risk of waxing dramatic—I’m turning over in my very soul. Some are things that resonate with me immediately, others are profound question marks that nag and challenge. For context: Frankl was writing this in the mid-1940s, while trying to return to “normal” life in the aftermath of unimaginable pain and loss of his loved ones.

On action and activism

. . . if there is a fundamental difference between the way people perceived the world around them in the past and the way they perceive it at present, then it is perhaps best identified as follows: in the past, activism was coupled with optimism, while today activism requires pessimism. (p. 24)

That which is actualized is also much more effective. Words alone are not enough. (p. 27)

On life as something other than the pursuit of happiness

So, life is somehow duty, a single, huge obligation . . . Happiness should not, must not, and can never be a goal, but only an outcome . . . (p. 32)

. . . it is not we who are permitted to ask about the meaning of life—it is life that asks the questions, directs questions at us—we are the ones who are questioned! (p. 33)

Whether a life is fulfilled doesn’t depend on how great one’s range of action is, but rather only on whether the circle [of one’s influence and impact] is filled out. (p. 36)

On whether life without children has meaning

We can answer: either a life, an individual life, has meaning . . . or this individual life, the life of an individual person, does not have meaning—then it could never acquire meaning merely by seeking to “immortalize” itself by procreation. Because immortalizing something that is inherently “meaningless” is itself meaningless. (p. 44)

On comparing your suffering with someone else’s

And in spite of everything, no human suffering can be compared to anyone else’s because it is part of the nature of suffering that it is the suffering of a particular person, that it is his or her own suffering—that its “magnitude” is dependent solely on the sufferer . . . a person’s solitary suffering is just as unique and individual as is every person. (p. 100)

On collective guilt

. . . we have to differentiate between collective guilt and collective liability . . . If I suddenly get appendicitis, is it my fault? Certainly not; and yet, if I have to have an operation, what then? I will nevertheless owe the fee for the operation to the doctor who operated on me. That is, I am “liable” for the settlement of the doctor’s bill. So “liability without guilt” definitely exists. (p. 102)


  1. Would you say this author reminds you a bit like C.S. Lewis? I’ve not read Frankl, but he’s on my radar, and this is another title I could read.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There’s certainly some similarities, especially since they were contemporaries. I’d need to read more Lewis to make a fair comparison, but on the surface I’m a little more drawn to Frankl’s style, which includes so much of his personal experience in a very compelling way.

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  2. pardon the above; i was having trouble with the password thing…Frankl was well respected in his field; Mrs. M knows a lot more about him than i do: she was a counsellor with her own business for quite a while… i don’t necessarily have opinions about what you’re talking about, as what i actually think has been inspired by sci fi, geology and zen after sixty years of cogitation… probably not what you’re interested in

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    1. That is so neat! If I were starting over in my career, something mental health-related would be something I’d have considered.

      Also, I would love to hear any insights you have from your background, anytime! I’m very interested in philosophy and science, though it doesn’t always show up in my reading selections. I did take a physical geography course in college… it seemed pertinent, especially since we live in an earthquake/volcano zone (*nervous laughter*).

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      1. ok… it’s not complicated. it just involves a broader perspective. humans are not special; they’re just another species on a small planet. the things which seem eternal and/or immortal to us have only been in existence for the brief time humans have been around… there is 4.45 billion years of history before humans ever evolved.

        our perceptions are limited to what our senses pick up out of the vast array of vibrations and waves available to any resident in this particular area of space/time…

        it is very probably that “consciousness” is an illusion, brought on by recycling circuitry in the brain as it deals with initial input from external sources, post-birth(there are a number of books about this)

        conclusion: there is nothing to worry about as regards the future or the past, since our senses are anchored in the so-called present. besides making a living and getting along with other humans, naturally…

        (looking at the reality around us can be very confusing, especially when listening to others; meditation, although merely a way of resting the brain, helps control waves of emotion instigated by others and contributes to a balanced outlook on the ever-developing present reality).

        so there: comments are fine, thank you very much (he said as he left the stage with his nose in the air, haha)

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        1. Wow, thank you for those thoughts, Mudpuddle! Sorry it’s taken me a few days to respond… It really is a different vantage point and I’ve been pondering it over.

          From your perspective, why do you think human beings try to hurt each other so much? It seems like it is self-defeating to us as a species, all the hatred and bloodshed and violence in our history and current events (as brief as it might be in the bigger scheme of things). What you describe seems to suggest the universe is inherently neutral(?)… So I wonder why there would be so much struggle and negative emotion in a neutral world, when such intense energy could as easily be channelled into only positive things.

          Let me know if you have any books to recommend on the topic of consciousness. Semi-related, I watched a fascinating documentary a few years back on PBS, where they were talking about the environmental impacts upon infants developing in the womb. It really opened my mind to life as a holistic concept, different things impacting each other in the most subtle ways, kind of like what you said about our perceptions. I still believe strongly in individualism and personal responsibility, but if anything it broadens the scope of what Frankl called “the circle”…

          Also, please let Mrs M know that is an amazing set of accomplishments, and to be so well-rounded is a goal of mine as well. πŸ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

          1. left over instinctive activity, i should think… life forms have eaten each other for billions of years and that aggression is hard-wired into the survival instinct… i can’t recall who made the comment about nature being red in tooth and claw; Darwin cited it but i think it’s a lot earlier than that… anyway, it’s the basis of uncivilized behavior i think… Frankl probably says something about aggression being the result of fear… it’s difficult to view life from an objective pov: we always interject what we’ve learned or heard; that’s what is so amazing about science: who would ever have believed that it was likely that any species could develop a method for studying reality from a totally unbiased viewpoint… every time i think about it it seems more remarkable… my memory is not what it used to be, so i can’t recall any specific titles, but there are lots of texts out there

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        2. This is an interesting opinion, but it contradicts Frankl’s. Indeed, he says that every individual life matters, and is therefore “special” (although I’m not sure he’d use that word, I rather think not). Whether or not consciousness is an illusion is irrelevant to his message. If one feels pain, one feels pain; and although individuals, through discipline of thought, can work hard to overcome triggered neurons, the vast majority of people run from pain to seek pleasure. Frankl is a practical man making a practical point about how one chooses to live: deliberately, with dignity, infusing one’s days with meaning? Or reactively and selfishly? He’s saying that spending life in obsessive pain avoidance and/or pursuing some kind of high, rather than infusing it with meaning, is the way to live well, to endure, and to survive with quality if not in quantity of years.
          Theory about the nature of consciousness is all very well; the question is: how are you going to live, especially when tragedy strikes? That’s Frankl’s point.


          1. TYPO: Apologies, correction: “He’s saying that spending life in obsessive pain avoidance…. is NOT the way to life well…” That’s what I get for typing too early in the morning.


  3. ps: mrs M just mentioned that Frankl was one of the smartest people she’d ever studied (she has a masters in english and a masters in social work and an lcsw… now she paints…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are some similarities, especially Frankl’s emphasis on personal responsibility. In fact towards the end of the book, he suggests the US should have a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast to balance out the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. πŸ™‚ What I prefer about Frankl is he leans less on theory and more on personal experience.

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