I’m writing this for you. Yes, you. You specifically. Because I love you and want you to live the best possible life. You may be wondering how? And fair enough. At the risk of disappointing you by setting up the stage to provide you with the viable principles of living a better life, I must begin with the word truth.
Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century philosopher, is often credited as being the founding father of existentialism. Existentialism is defined as a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent capable of determining their own development through acts of the will.
I can already hear the loud rendition of, “But what does that even mean?” from you so let me go ahead and break it apart for you. In order to better understand existentialism as a branch of philosophy and how it ties into the promise of helping you improve your life, let us first take a look at what it means to be an adult.
Once you cross the sweet age of 18, you practically become an adult. This really is the age when you should start to craft an identity for yourself which you can carry forward into the world with aplomb. This really is the age when you should start to think for yourself, to decide what you really want to do with your life, and the kind of responsibilities that you want to adopt that will help you sustain a truly meaningful life.
My early 20’s were an absolute catastrophe. I remember once sitting on my bed, drowning in existential dread about what the future would entail. I was afraid of going out to pursue meaningful things, partly because I didn’t know what things I found deeply meaningful to begin with.
It’s always terrifying to realise that at one point in your life you must abandon your comfort zone to get out into the world, take on new challenges, and forge an identity for yourself.
But the question always is, where should you look for meaningful things? If you find yourself suffering under the tremendous weight of expectations surrounding your future, I would encourage you to look no further than yourself to determine what it is that you truly want.
From my experience, the world lays itself out as a place for tremendous social and economic opportunities once you truly understand your inner self. Most people never take the time to connect with their own authentic self, because it’s far more convenient to parrot the ideas and opinions of other people than to follow your own authentic path.
Given the brevity of life, any amount of time spent living inauthenticially will rob you of the opportunity to live a truly meaningful life. Nietzsche once said, “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”
The path to living an authentic life, therefore, can only be found under the rubric of truthful conduct. And I want to encourage you to live a life that is based on the precepts of always speaking the truth.
And the truth I am talking about here is more subjective in nature, and the only way to recognize your own truth is to analyze how your utterances make you feel. If what you say or do makes you feel weak, you must immediately abandon it.
To live by one’s own truth is to always say and do things that make you feel strong. Striving to strike a perfect harmony between the words you utter and the actions you take is the foundation to living a truly authentic life.
Kierkegaard once telegraphically wrote, “What good would it do me if the truth stood in front of me, cold and naked, not caring whether I recognized her or not, and producing in me a shudder of fear than a trusting devotion?”
So truth really is the means through which you mitigate the suffering that is so characteristic of our lives. Truth is the means through which you find your strongest possible self. And truth is the means through which you embody a mode of being that can truly help you flourish in the world.
But the question is — why should you even strive to live an authentic life?
Life itself is deeply irrational. Virtually everyone you meet in your life is practically drowning in existential terror — questions of why are we here? Who has sent us here? What happens after death? etc.. consume us to the tilt.
The conditions of life are so preposterously grotesque so as to render the normative state of our existence deeply terrifying. But despite the harsh conditions of life, there are certain things that are truly worth pursuing, because they actually help us in mitigating our existential angst.
As far as I can tell, there really are two ways of living life — one where you make no effort to know yourself, thereby adopting a nihilistic framework, and refusing to shoulder any responsibilities at all. And the other approach is to simply look at the world through a meaning laden framework, where you strive to pursue things that you find are fulfilling to yourself, and where you can orient your life in such a way so as to make the world a better place to live.
So the reason you should strive to live an authentic life is because inauthenticity breeds the kind of attitude that tilts the world towards pathology. And you also stand to suffer existentially when you adopt this approach, because you will be endlessly tortured by your own conscience, making your life even more miserable.
So living an authentic life is not only a virtue but also a moral obligation that everyone is stuck with. And in many ways, I think you already know this. Living an authentic life is the only antidote to our suffering, and there can never be a higher value in all the hierarchy of values than to live a life that is based on truthful conduct.
Philosophy has many great things to teach us, but I think none more important than the idea of living a truthful life, which forms the primary tenet of existentialism as a branch of philosophy.