Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning seems daunting at first, not because of its length, but because it's a philosophical text about the question that has continued to taunt humankind throughout its existence - what does life mean? Specifically, what do our individual lives mean?
The first part of Frankl's text focuses on his time as a concentration camp prisoner during WWII. He breaks down the ways in which the camps affected the minds of the prisoners, and comes to the conclusion that those who found a purpose for survival - whether it was seeing a loved one again, or in Frankl's own case, finishing a manuscript - had much higher chances of surviving. As an example Frankl cites how many prisoners he watched die after the Christmas of 1945. Many of them, Frankl writes, had lived only for the belief that they would be home with their families by Christmas, and after that belief was dashed, had simply withered away.
The second portion of the novel is dedicated to explaining Logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy which centers around the idea that, "striving to find a meaning in one's life is the primary motivational force in man." A lot of what Frankl writes in reference to Logotherapy seems even more true today than when he first published the text. When he describes the crisis of the modern world he describes many of us as existing in an "existential vacuum". Basically, we're all completely freaked out by the fact that our lives seem meaningless, and because of that we drink, drug, develop a host of neuroses and worship money. We're unhappy, but we're ashamed of being unhappy, and the fact that we're ashamed makes us even more unhappy.
So what is the meaning of life? Frankl can't answer that, but he does have a tip:
Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.