For Erich Fromm, man makes his life meaningful by living
productively, and by using his powers of love and reason to their
For Abraham Maslow, meaning is experienced by the self-actualized, growth-motivated person who delights in using his creative powers for their own sake, and who can affirm himself and simultaneously transcend himself through peak experiences.
Finally, for Viktor Frankl, meaning is experiencing by responding to the demands of the situation at hand, discovering and committing oneself to one's own unique task in life, and by allowing oneself to experience or trust in an ultimate meaning - which one may or may not call God.
Erich Fromm and Abraham Maslow are self-actualization psychologists, both explicitly concerned with the actualization of one's potentialities, with development of one's own powers. As Charlotte Buhler points out in her book, Values in Psychotherapy, both Fromm and Maslow emphasize DISCOVERING one's needs and powers and developing oneself, in contrast to the existential thinkers who emphasize CHOOSING actions in the world and COMMITTING oneself to the task at hand.
Frankl and Heschel do not focus upon actualizing oneself, but upon choosing to dedicate oneself to an end outside the self. Their primary concern is involvement in and contribution TO THE WORLD. In Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote, "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." (p.122)
"I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones. And I thought that if the point were demonstrated in a situation as extreme as that in a concentration camp, my book might gain a hearing. I therefore felt responsible for writing down what I had gone through, for I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair."
"Again and again I
therefore admonish my students in
"We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one's predicament into a human achievement."
According to Frankl, an individual can find meaning in life:
(1) " by creating a work or doing a deed;
(2) by experiencing something or encountering someone;
(3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering."
The "Existential" aspect of Frankl's psychotherapy maintains man always has the ability to choose; no matter the biological, or environmental forces. The last scope of this therapy is known as the "tragic triad," pain, guilt, and death. Frankl's "Case for a Tragic Optimism" uses this philosophy to demonstrate..."optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for:
suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment;
(2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better;
(3) deriving from life's transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action."
example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones. And I thought that if the point were demonstrated in a situation as extreme as that in a concentration camp, my book might gain a hearing. I therefore felt responsible for writing down what I had gone through, for I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair."