When people start wondering over questions like the purpose of their life or the true meaning of their actions. They are asking themselves the questions of existentialism. It is a theory of philosophy that describes that every person is his own master. And the actions of a person are what defines life.
Existentialism is a philosophical thesis that each of us is responsible for giving our lives meaning and intent. It asserts that individuals are free agents who make their own decisions and actions. Gods, states, teachers, or other officials do not owe us our intent and value.
Let us understand essentialism for a better understanding of existentialism.
Essentialism and Existentialism
“Your life has a predetermined purpose”
“God has a plan for everyone”
“Every person is destined for something in their life”
You must have heard such statements and many of this kind sometime or the other in your life. Be it from your parents, elders, teachers, or any person in authority. While there is a general belief that there is a superpower that has set the ultimate goal of each person’s life.
Philosophers argue that everything has an essence of its own which makes it what it is. Without that particular essence, the meaning or attribute of life changes. For instance, if we put a small shallow bowl at the end of the metal, it becomes a spoon. Whereas if something sharp is attached at the end, it can either be a knife or a fork. Again, depending on the particular essence of a thing. For a spoon, the round bowl is the essence while for a knife, the sharp blade is the essence.
Hence, philosophers including Aristotle and Plato believe that every human life has its essence. This theory seems to mean that, whether you realize it or not, your life’s purpose was given to you before you were born. And the choices you make regularly are all leading to your ultimate goal, whatever that goal might be.
But the theory of existentialism disposes the theory of essentialism. It contradicts that every person makes their path and there is no determined goal. People who believe in essentialism relate it to religious notions and says that God creates every being with a purpose. However, there was also a discussion that if you already have an intended objective, then you need not do anything for it. Since you are ultimately moving towards the same.
Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre started questioning on existence preceding essence. It was after the holocaust of World War 2, that people had their doubts about essentialism. For them, no predetermined purpose can include such horrific events.
As we now know, existentialism advocates that every human created their purpose or meaning of life through their actions. But also, being an existentialist does not mean being an atheist. While there can be an omnipresent figure in our life i.e., God, he does not need to fixed plans for all of us, and you believe so.
Some common questions of existentialism are:
- What is the meaning of life?
- Why do I exist?
- Who am I?
- What is the purpose of my life?
- What should I do to achieve that purpose?
- Do I have a predetermined goal in life?
When people fail to find answers to such questions in their life, they face an existential crisis.
With the responsibility of finding a purpose in life, there comes a great burden on a person. Since there is no divinity defining the ultimate goal of life, people have the freedom to be what they want to be. Consequently, we question our actions. Even when a tragedy happens or a significant life change occurs, we can begin to doubt our true identities. Sometimes, this leads to a person facing an existential crisis.
The word “existential crisis” refers to a period of intense self-questioning. This typically has something to do with how someone sees themselves and their place in the world. It is not rare to seek meaning and intent in one’s life. The trouble starts when we are unable to find satisfying answers. This lack of answers can cause internal conflict, resulting in anger and a loss of inner joy for some people.
Sometimes, an existential crisis can have adverse effects on a person. It is linked to a variety of mental health issues. As a consequence, it is often better to seek medical attention, especially in the case of depression or suicidal ideation.
Existentialists add that society should not impose limits on an individual’s existence or behavior. Since such restrictions stifle free will and stunt the growth of that person’s potential. Moreover, it may be healthy to question the true meaning of life, but it does not mean that you will always find an answer. You must have a positive outlook on life.
In case, you still face an existential crisis, few things can help you overcome it.
- Even if you do not find the true purpose of your life, start writing experiences that bring meaning to your life. This will help you appreciate your life and might even give significant meaning to it.
- Additionally, if you keep on having negative thoughts in your mind, talk to someone. Professional help is always better.
- Do not dwell on the past. Look at the brighter future ahead and stop worrying about things in the past.
- Meditating always helps. It keeps you calm throughout the day and gives you a fresh perspective of everything.
- Lastly, focus on self-care. Do those things that you enjoy.