What is the meaning of life? Religious leaders, philosophers, teachers, and other soul searchers have tried to answer this question throughout history. Some find meaning in service to God or humanity while others focus on internal piety or wisdom. Many rely on the guidance of God or some other entity to show them the right path to take, particularly when their circumstances are challenging or confusing.

Many existentialists believe that there is a certain measure of absurdity in trying to understand a world that consistently refuses to be orderly or make any sort of sense. However, they do not seem to be immune to the desire to discover either a purpose in living or at least a means of finding some joy or usefulness along the way.

Through Self-Determination

A common theme throughout the discourse of existential thinkers is the idea that existence itself must come before essence. That is, people are born into the world without any concept of who they are or what their purpose in life is. As they grow, they use their own subjective experience to understand the world and their place in it.

For existentialists, this is a lifelong pursuit, and many believe that it is ultimately unattainable. People may spend a lot of time trying to discern the best way to live their lives, but it's possible that many never know why they are on Earth or what the point of life is. Nihilists often contend that this is because there actually is no point and that life is just what you make of each moment. Others who adhere to existentialism maintain that meaning can exist, but it's up to each person to determine what that is.

Through Self-Reliance

External influences are not the path to true purpose, according to this school of philosophy. In fact, most existentialists would argue that the opinions and advice that others give can actually be hindrances to one's own discovery. After all, the beliefs and values on which they base their counsel are typically a result of their own subjective experiences. Therefore, the conclusions they draw are not likely to be particularly useful to others, particularly those whose lives are very different.

This school of thought often extends its skepticism of outside influence to people and institutions that many folks consult regarding big questions about life and the universe:

  • God or some other higher power
  • Religious communities and their doctrines
  • Cultural and societal norms

The key to finding meaning in life for existentialists is to delve into their own understanding of the world as they experience it. This results in fierce independence that, once established, tends to make them less susceptible to suggestions or pressure.

Through Self-Improvement

Furthermore, existentialists typically believe that people must overcome the power that outside entities have over them. All traditional values are to be questioned and are likely to be exposed as irrelevant to a meaningful life. It is only through moving past the pressure to conform to the guidelines embedded in the expectations that surround them that they have any hope of understanding their life's true meaning.

Nietzsche in particular was adamant that, to find any semblance of satisfaction in the world, people must not allow themselves to be limited by societal norms and values, popular opinion, or even their own unproductive eccentricities. Once they break free of those constraints, they are more likely to be able to work toward becoming the free-thinking, ideal human being, or Übermensch.

Of all the world's philosophies, few are as focused on the isolation of each individual in discerning why he or she is alive on the planet as existentialism. Existentialists believe that through thoughtful observation and understanding of their unique personal experiences, people are more likely to stumble upon the meaning of life for themselves.

Category: Religion

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