Existentialism Is Your Life Preserver in 2020’s Sea of Angst
The most existentially anguished sigh you’ll hear comes from my chihuahua. Some days he strolls into the kitchen wearing his little black turtleneck sweater and smoking a Gauloise. He’ll give me a blasé look, sigh dramatically, and say, ‘L’homme est une passion inutile.’
I understand his angst better than his French.
I had my first existential crisis at age seven in Bible school class. That day we were told our only purpose on Earth was to serve God and our reward would be spending eternity praising Him with songs. The thought of my life’s purpose being admission to a never-ending church service made me uneasy. I sat in my little chair in my little pressed shirt and threw up a little vomit.
At age seven I decided existence was pointless. Currently, many people may have similar feelings.
What Is an Existential Crisis?
An existential crisis occurs when you feel overwhelmed or insignificant in the face of uncertainty or death, resulting in intense bouts of anxiety, despair, or feelings of meaninglessness. This type of angst, according to classic existentialism, is a natural component of the human condition and can be brought on by a range of events including economic losses, confronting your mortality, or witnessing a world-changing occurrence.
COVID-19 has hand-delivered existential crises to people across the globe.
The crashing economy may force you to consider a new occupation. News of someone’s death may prompt you to contemplate your mortality. Perhaps you’re like me, quarantined with your in-laws, and finding amusement in existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s words ‘Hell is other people.’
Our evolved brains are predisposed to existential quandary and only need a spark to ignite anxiety. If we can identify from where our angst originates, we can take measures to manage our thoughts and fears, turning an existential crisis into an opportunity to forge a more purposeful version of humanity. Four major sources of angst are the questions we have about death, authenticity, freedom, and meaning.