Nothing cures existential ennui quicker than an acute threat to one's existence
Feeling restless? Do something dangerous.
A short post to prompt some thoughts on a life worth living. As I write this, I’m thinking aloud; other than a quick grammar and spell check, it won’t be receiving revisions.
The reader paying close attention to my posts thus far might be able to spot some themes among the, on face value, seemingly random tirade of thoughts. However, I do often touch on, or attempt to tap into, what I think of as the root causes of our discontents, not in a scholarly way, but by way of observation and simply living and experiencing.
I am of the firm opinion that, although it is very much in vogue in some regions of society to talk of “lived experience” with regards to “sufferers” of certain ills, we should not need to live something to understand it—for aren’t we all human and all capable of all array of human experience? Talking of “lived experience” as though it is some mystical journey that only some are capable of is simply an excuse not to be empathetic. What is empathy other than attempting to understand another’s experience?
I believe that many people are discontented, not just because of a lack of purpose or meaning in their lives, but because of a lack of real struggle. Too much ease and too much comfort are all the rage these days. I think this is the reason why most of the people I’ve ever met that are either depressed or anxious or just downright grumpy and negative (surely that is one part of the spectrum of depression?) is because of a severe lack of any struggle to survive—whether artificial or real.
Furthermore, experiencing a true challenge of the sort in which you aren’t even sure you will survive is one sure-fire way to be present in the moment! Nothing else matters when you feel your life is in danger. Nothing else matters when you aren’t sure where your next meal will come from. Nothing else matters when your sole focus is on survival and the survival of your loved ones. Why else do so many men yearn to return to the battlefield when they return home from war. I’m not making this up. There’s a lot of research and many wonderful books describing this fascinating aspect of human nature (lots of excellent war journalism and writing by Sebastian Junger in this area too).
I often wonder how many “depressed” people there are in war-torn countries or refugee camps or in favelas or in ghettos around the world. I wonder, I do not know, of course. But I speculate far fewer than in our cushy Western society. I suspect the aforementioned people do not really have the luxury of wallowing in their own self-pity or existential despair. They’re likely too focused on providing the next meal for their kids or hustling for a better life.
This isn’t to say that we should disregard people's genuine feelings in Western society; I very much think we should care about these (hence why I am writing this post, leading up to a suggestion). It also doesn’t mean that I think we should allow poverty to exist around the world as people in these communities might suffer less from the diseases and tribulations of affluence—these people deserve the right to experience a stable life with fewer daily challenges to their survival.
I am suggesting that it is a peculiar circumstance that although we crave ease and comfort and the ability to design our world and lives to be safe, bubble wrapped, and without hardship, that we, in fact, require a solid dose of struggle with an element of frequency to maintain our sanity!
There really is no better way to get yourself out of a rut than to challenge yourself; and there’s no better way to challenge yourself than to have your mettle tested by nature; in the ocean, on the mountain or in the woods.
If you’re in a funk, and unsure why life is worth living; do something extremely trialling; get into some genuine trouble; do a skydive (safe as houses with the illusion of risk); try scuba diving, jump off something scarily high, climb a tall tree (when was the last time you did this? If you were a child, I truly, truly pity you).
Go seek out a threat to your existence and report back your experience.