The Search for Meaning: Looking for theWhyof Life

It would seem that self-actualization is the greatest height that can be reached by human motivation, and from reading Maslov.-'s writings one would get that distinct impression. Nonetheless, it can be argued that there is one motivational level extending above self-actualization. The existential psychiatrist Viktor Frank!, author of Man’s Search for Meaning argues that the highest level for human beings is the will to meaning, the need for life to make sense and to have a purpose in the larger scheme of things.

Frankl asserts that the will to meaning is inborn, that it is a real psychological and emotional need. If a person lives a meaningful life, then that life will be full and rewarding. If a person lives a meaningless life, then that life will be empty and pointless. Frankl calls this adverse mental and emotional state the existential vacuum. One of its principal characteristics is demoralization, the conviction that nothing has any value and that nothing is worth doing.

Some of Frankl'-s assertions about the importance of our search for meaning arise from his own experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. Although he was a prisoner himself, he did not forget that he was a physician and a psychiatrist. He felt it was his responsibility to give comfort and aid to his fellow prisoners whenever possible. This became his reason for living, and he credits it with his ability to survive under extremely harsh conditions. He argues that when a human being has a reason for existence, he or she can often tolerate a high level of pain and frustration. It is instructive to note that the original title oi Man’s Search for Meaning was From Diaih Camp io Existentialism.

How- is meaning fulfilled? Frankl argues that the will to meaning orients itself toward values, perceived aspects of the wodd that seem to have worth or importance to other individuals or to humanity in general. This may seem very exalted, but in practice it can be very basic. Being fair and decent in one's dealings with friends and relatives is an example of a value. Raising one's children in a loving way is another example. For most people, meaning can readily be found in living traditional social roles—being an effective teacher, parent, nurse, auto mechanic, loving partner, and so forth. Note that in all of these social roles there is some service or contribution to others. The will to meaning reaches beyond the self.

For some people, humanity in general is served by the will to meaning. When we think of great authors, scientists, or leaders, we see that their contributions to life extend beyond an immediate family to the larger human family. But the basic theme is the same—a concern with the welfare of others.

Frankl argues that values do not have to be invented. They need to be discovered.

He says that a person suffering from an existential vacuum is like a person in a room with the lights out. The individual thinks that there is no furniture in the room because he or she can't see it. Then the lights are turned on and the furniture becomes visible. Values, like the pieces of furniture in the room, are real and present. But they have to be discovered by the light of human consciousness in order for the individual to have a meaningful life.


1. From the point of view of psychology as a science a motive is

a. a dependent variable

b. an independent variable

c. a radical variable

d. an intervening variable

2. A physiological process characterized by a tendency for biological drives to maintain themselves at optimal levels of arousal is called

a. homeostasis

b. metamotivation

c. hyperstatic integration

d. heterostasis

3. Which of the following is clearly associated with the curiosity drive?

a. The need to escape from pain

b. The need for affiliation

c. The search for meaning in life

d. The tendency to seek novel stimulation

4. Which of the following is a motive to associate with others?

a. The need for dominance

b. The need for exhibition

c. The need for aggression

d. The need for affiliation

5. According to Freud, w-hat force in the mind is responsible for the creation of unconscious motives?

a. Repression

b. Ego inhibition

c. Superego excitation

d. Homeostasis

6. Which one of the following is associated with cognitive needs?

a. Seeking a higher rank within an organization

b. Working a crossword puzzle

c. Looking for love

d. Searching for shelter

". Self-actualization is most closely linked to which of the following?

a. Feeling hungry

b. Maximizing potentialities

c. Seeking novel stimulation

d. Wanting affection

S. X^at does Maslow call moments of joy or ecstasy experienced when a hurdle is overcome, a task is completed, or a goal is reached?

a. Hedonic experiences

b. Transcendental experiences

c. Peak experiences

d. Summit experiences

9. Frankl argues that the highest level of motivation for human beings is the

a. wiU to meaning

b. need for transcendental experience

c. wish to become one with the All

d. desire to exercise the will to power

10. If a person lives a meaningless life, then that life will be empty and pointless.

Frankl calls this mental and emotional state

a. major depressive episode

b. bipolar disorder

c. the existential vacuum

biochemical depression

True or False

T F Biological drives are regulated by a principle known as hyper static integration.

T F General drives, unlike biological drives, are not inborn.

T F The need for autonomy is a motive to do what one wants to do.

T F According to Freud, all motives are conscious.

3. T F The need for self-actualization is the need to maximize one's talents and potentialities.


define the concept of motivation;

list and describe the principal biological drives;

specify the characteristics of the general drives;

identify some of the principal acquired motives;

explain the nature of unconscious motives;

define the concept of self-actualization;

explain the importance of the will to meaning.

Match the terms with their definitions

drive engaging in activities because they are personally rewarding or because they fulfill our beliefs and expectations
extrinsic motivation engaging in activities that either reduce biological needs or help us obtain external incentives
homeostasis an external stimulus, reinforcer. or reward that motivates behavior
incentive the tendency of all organisms to correct imbalances and deviations from their normal state
instincts a state of tension produced by a need that motivates an organism toward a goal
intrinsic motivation a biological or psychological requirement of an organism
motivation innate tendencies that determine behavior
need an internal state that activates behavior and directs it toward a goal
fundamental needs the pursuit of knowledge and beauty or w-hatever else is required for the realization of one's unique potential
lateral hvpothalamus (LH) the urge to belong and to give and receive love, and the urge to acquire esteem
psychological needs biological drives that must be satisfied to maintain life
self-actualization needs the part of the hypothalamus that can cause one to stop eating
ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) the part of the hypothalamus that produces hunger signals

Think about the four theories of motivation. For each theory listed below, give an example that supports it.

Theory Supporting Example
Instinct Theorv 1.
Drive-Reduction Theorv 2.
Incentive Theorv 3.
Cognitive Theorv 4.

Think about the motivations that we learn from our environment. Complete each statement below.

7. A person with high need for achievement

8. A person who fears failure might

9. A person who fears success might

A person trying to satisfy psychological needs might