Notes on Alfred Adler’s ‘What life could mean to you’

Title: What life could mean to you
Author: Alfred Adler
Download this article: .pdf (118 kB), .ePub (52 kB), .mobi (128 kB)


Just last December 2016, I discovered a large collection of 99-cent books, 99-cent volumes even, on Amazon, and suddenly the number of public-domain classics within my reach has expanded. Sure, there are typos to watch out for in these recently digitized works, but this is a minor issue to the increased availability of ideas from the past. One of the first books I began reading was Alfred Adler’s ‘What life could mean to you,’ one book of four in the Amazon Kindle edition. The book has had an immediate impact in the way I perceive my actions, and has challenged me to go about my tasks with society in mind. These writing and musical projects I have on my site, can’t be limited to my own personal enjoyment and vanity; if there is something worthwhile in my art, I have to face the world with it, and this means being more outgoing with the way I do promotions. I should never be satisfied with my solitude, with merely loving some vague distant idea of humanity to come rather than real, specific people.

All failures — neurotics, psychotics, criminals, drunkards, problem children, suicides, perverts and prostitutes — are failures because they are lacking in fellow-feeling and social interest. They approach the problems of occupation, friendship and sex without the confidence that they can be solved by cooperation. The meaning they give to life is a private meaning: no one else is benefited by the achievement of their aims and their interest stops short at their own persons. Their goal of success is a goal of mere fictitious personal superiority and their triumphs have meaning only to themselves.
– Location 188-192

The mark of all true ‘meanings of life’ is that they are common meanings — they are meanings in which others can share, and meanings which others can accept as valid.
– Location 204-205

If a human being, in the meaning he gives to life, wishes to make a contribution, and if his emotions are all directed to this goal, he will naturally be bound to bring himself into the best shape for contribution. He will fit himself for his goal; he will train himself in social feeling and he will gain skill from practice.
– Location 217-219

[T]here is probably something of a mistake always involved when we take particular experiences as the basis for our future life.
– Location 266-267

No imperfection of organs compels a mistaken style of life. We never find two children whose glands have the same effects on them. We can often see children who overcome these difficulties and who, in overcoming them, develop unusual faculties for usefulness.
– Location 279-281

The striving for superiority remains flexible; and, indeed, the nearer to health and normality an individual is, the more he can find new openings for his strivings when they are blocked in one particular direction. It is only the neurotic who feels, of the concrete expressions of his goal, ‘I must have this or nothing.’
– Location 841-843

[O]ut of the incalculable number of impressions which meet an individual, he chooses to remember only those which he feels, however darkly, to have a bearing on his situation.
– Location 999-1000

‘Good’ and ‘bad’, like other expressions of character, have meaning only in a social context; they are the result of training in a social environment, among our fellow men, and they imply a judgment, ‘conducive to the welfare of others’, or ‘opposed to the welfare of others.’
– Location 2202-2204

[T]he first rule in treatment, ‘Never do anything you don’t like.’ This seems to be very modest, but I believe that it goes to the root of the whole trouble. If a melancholiac is able to do anything he wants, whom can he accuse? What has he got to revenge himself for?
– Location 3314-3316

This world is my world. I must act and organize, not wait and expect.
– Location 3358

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit
Buy Alfred Adler’s ‘What life could mean to you’ on Amazon, here.
This document is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.
You can write me at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s