What Is An Existential Crisis? (And Why Do We Have Them?)

I asked my friends and family what having an existential crisis felt like to them.

This is what they said.

“So apparently I have an existential crisis every day”

“The this is fine dog sitting in the burning house”

“Like everything I do from this point on both doesn’t matter at all but also changes everything”

This is what we call existentialism. It’s this sudden realization that we are in control, but it’s not as great as it sounds.

Realizing our freedom is horrifying.

It was once believed that we all have an “essence”, some people still believe this (philosophy isn’t a concrete science), and this essence just means that the meaning of our lives is instilled in us before birth.

This could come from religion or talent, but it means our lives are predetermined and it’s our duty to fulfill those predetermined destinies.

Then there’s existentialism. This means that birth overtakes essence. We’re not born with meaning. We’re born, and only after are we assigned the task to find meaning in our own lives.

To me, and a lot of people, an existential crisis takes on a lot of forms.

Sometimes, it’s this sinking feeling I get when I realize that I exist.

“Me. I exist. Forreal. I have to make choices, those choices will affect myself and others, and my moral code and destiny is up to me. Is any of this real? Am I real? Did I make this up? Is this some kind of test? Why do all of this?“

Don’t have an existential crisis.

When I was 9 years old this usually happened while I was on the toilet (brought on by the fact that I had nothing better to do there).

This explosive realization and quick spiraling hole of thoughts is the worst kind for me. I usually start to panic, get paranoid, and question everything that I am and do. It’s to such a deep degree that I can hardly explain it. It’s as if I’ve unlocked some horrifying secret of the universe and I am now burdened with this knowledge that I can’t actually do anything with.

Don’t have an existential crisis.

Like my fiance said “everything I do from this point on doesn’t matter at all, but this also changes everything”.

It’s like mentally spiraling down a dark cold corridor and suddenly realizing you have no way out, and you don’t even remember going in.

The less severe form is the existential dread I get when I realize that everything in this world is a man-made construct and an illusion, I am in more control than I previously thought. But even with that realization I can’t do anything to break away from it all. I’m stuck conforming against my will.

But that’s not true, is it? I have free-will. I have the power to choose my own essence, and if everything is made by man then I also choose the rules that I follow, right?

I don’t have to do what I’m told, I just do it because… morals?

If you, like myself, choose to follow God or any other religion you have a guideline for the rules you choose to follow. But even if you don’t, you still have the rules of this world to choose to follow. We all have that choice. Do we conform to the rules of society that we call “the law” or do we rebel?

That’s our choice. Our free-will. But there are consequences that  guide our actions. We technically don’t have to follow the rules, but we do if we don’t want to face those consequences.

Maybe this is why we have strange and Nihilistic thoughts when driving on the road at 3am. “I could just crash this car”. Yes, you could, but why would you do that? You would be hurting yourself and potentially others. Is it your morals stopping you? Your will to live? You probably don’t want to do it, but realizing you have that power is a strange thing.

And the only thing stopping you from doing it is the morals and meaning you’ve put into your life.

But what else does an existential crisis do you?

It makes you realize that life is either completely meaningless or a broad search for meaning. Or as most philosophers have decided, both.

Your life is meaningless as heck, so you need to go out there and give it meaning. This is your duty, your everlasting struggle as a human.

Vikor Frankl, author and psychologist, wrote about this concept in his book “A Man’s Search For Meaning”. He states that man needs meaning to live. If we feel our lives have no meaning we will find it difficult to live.

Lack of meaning leads to depression, anxiety, and dread for life. 

So when Viktor could help his patients find meaning in their lives, they almost instantly perk up. In the book, he even tells the story of a man who was deeply depressed after his wife passed away, but once Frankl asked him if he thought that him carrying the burden of her loss was better than her having to carry the burden of his loss, the man stood up and shook his hand. He left with a sense of purpose, he still felt the pain of the loss of his wife, but he was no longer in severe depression from it since he knew that his pain had prevented her a life of pain.

What’s your meaning?

This is the thought that underlies every existential crisis.

This is why I create.

I feel existential every time I find something in my life as meaningless. (Money gives me existential crisis vibes all the time).

If I’m working, and I can’t pull meaning from my work, I start to hate what I’m doing.

If I’ve gone too many days without doing anything of meaning I start to feel down.

When I realize that money and greed are holding me back from living the most meaningful life possible I want to fight the government and write ranty posts about how dumb money it because instead of serving our lives with meaning it seems to deprive us.

Why does an existential crisis matter?

Should you and I ignore our existential thoughts?

Are they something to freak us out and pass the time, or do they serve purpose?

I think they do something very important for us, so I like to listen to mine (within reason), because…

I don’t want to feel regret and I don’t want to feel controlled and meaningless.

That’s the message my crisis sends me. If I am freaking out about my existential existence it probably means I haven’t found and served my meaning enough.

If I never stop to think about what’s meaningful to me I might end up regretting my life on my deathbed. What if a family is my meaning and I spend my time working and never having a family of my own or neglecting the family I was born into?

What if I did know that I wanted a family, but I let the world control me and never had one because of my circumstance? Is conforming worth the price of meaninglessness?

I like to think that an existential crisis can be useful in helping us get a kick of motivation to do what WE want to do and not what we feel others want out of us.

At the end of the day we don’t even know how real anything is.

You could spend your whole life as a nihilist never believing there is anything more to life than doing what you’re told and live by other’s standards OR you can realize that that doesn’t matter because nothing is real and the rules that everyone around you has set are as made up as any rule you could make, so why not make your own way and pave your own path?

(Was that a run-on sentence?)

Why is the existential crisis meaningful? Because it forces us to realize that we are the only ones who can create meaning in our lives and it gives us the horrifying knowledge that we can do that however we want.

If I find it meaningful to play animal crossing with my mom and sisters, because it’s quality time with the people I love, then that is a meaningful thing I did today. No one can tell me otherwise.

If writing this blog post gave me meaning this morning, and the evening I edited and posted this, then awesome! It is meaningful because I said so.

If I find it meaningful to quit my job and pursue something that is hard and likely to take me ages to accomplish, then I’ll probably feel amazing as long as it’s what I want. Some people may think you’re dumb if you do this kind of thing, but if it gives your life more meaning it’s probably the smartest thing you could do for yourself.

We can’t care what other people think when it comes to living meaningful lives.

In Philosophical terms, this is called being “Authentic”.

I’m serious. 

Authenticity is being yourself, and in philosophical terms that means making the choices that best serve YOU and you alone.

So if leaving your job is right for you, the authentic thing to do is leave. If it’s not, the authentic thing to do is stay. But no one can tell you the answer, because there isn’t one. All of your choices are up to you.

Don’t have an existential crisis.

I have no control over the fact that life evolved from the simplicity of caring for your family, community, and working for basic survival together and is now this world blurred by greed, materialism, and grind culture.

The basics of life are now shunned away by the things that man created. We work so much that we see our families less and less, our work doesn’t feel as meaningful, and our communities are either spread far from each other or hardly exist at all.

We can’t change that, but we can be our authentic selves and try to find our meaning in this disheveled world. Maybe your meaning, like mine, is to fight this system, speak up against it, and do any little thing you can to balance out the powers and give back to the world what it deserves.

So…

Have an existential crisis.

But use it right.

If we just let an existential crisis freak us out and go down the hole of “holy shit nothing matters, I don’t matter, I’ll never matter, what the heck why does anything matter?” we’ll feel dread and loneliness unlike any other.

We’ll realize that we are alone and that our choices are damning if we let them be.

Is this the loneliest loneliness that Justin Remohof was referring to?

Don’t fall down the pit of meaninglessness that Squidward did in the famous SB-129 episode.

Let your existential thoughts guide you in your search for meaning and let them help you make the choices that otherwise seem impossible. Writing publicly like this and making videos is a little scary, but there are no rules and nothing matters unless I say it does, so why not?

Until next time

Stay Psyched

(and don’t have an existential crisis)

Click here to watch the video:

References to visit for more information:

What is an Existential Crisis?

Existentialism: Crash Course Philosophy #16

How Spongebob Explored Existential Nihilism

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: