Existential Crisis: How I Live In A Meaningless World And Overcome The Dread

What’s the point of living?

Do I have a purpose?

Is life meaningless?

You’re probably asking these questions if you’re going through an existential crisis. 

If you’re facing an existential crisis (in the form of existential dread, existential anxiety, existential depression or existential angst) and you don’t know what to do with your life, you’re not alone.

The existential crisis is on the rise, and we must learn how to deal with it. But first…

What Is An Existential Crisis? (Definition)

An existential crisis arises from the thought patterns that lead you to conclude that your existence is pointless. It is often triggered by life-altering events and it comes in the form of existential dread, existential anxiety/angst or existential depression.

An existential crisis gives you the feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness, and insecurity. You see, ever since you were a kid, you had a set of instructions and authorities over you. Your parents helped you get started with life. Your teachers taught you more basics of life. Your professors made you educated. The government gave you a set of rules to live in society. Your employer made you useful. And maybe you prayed to your God to keep yourself going.

Every time, there was someone telling you what to do. You were dependent. You were safe. But then it hits you…

You can do anything and none of it will matter. It will all go in vain. Everything is absurd. The world is a mess. Your legacy won’t matter. Everyone will die. The universe will end.

It gives you a sense of freedom to do and be anything. But this freedom is scary. There’s no one to watch over. No one to answer to.

You feel powerless, hopeless and insecure because the world is chaotic and uncertain. You could die at any instance and the world will keep going. Your life becomes meaningless and everything seems pointless.

So how do you overcome the existential dread? Philosophy may show you the way out of existential depression or existential anxiety.

The Existential Dilemma (Through The Lens of Existentialism)

Everything has been figured out, except how to live .

Jean-Paul Sartre

The Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle first came up with the concept that everything has an essence. They believed that our essence exists within us even before we were born. So our purpose was to find that essence and live accordingly.

Then in the mid-20th century, Jean-Paul Sarate put another spin on the existence and the meaning of it. He asked “What if we exist first? What if we’re born without any hard-wired purpose, and then it’s up to us to figure out our own essences?” That’s the core concept of existentialism.

In existentialism, if there are no rules to abide by, no purpose to follow, and no authority to answer to. It’s up to us to create our purpose and figure out how to live.

According to Sarate, the best thing to do is to live authentically according to the meaning you give yourself. To further explain this point, he gave the example of one of his student’s existential dilemmas. The story goes like this:

“A young man was at a crossroads in his life. He could join the military during wartime and go off to fight for a cause that he believed in. And he wanted to do this. He thought it was right. But he also had an elderly mother who would be all alone if he left. If he went to war, he’d leave her behind, and that seemed wrong. So he could stay with her, and let others fight for justice, or he could go off to war, and leave his mother to herself, and likely never see her again.

The young man felt a sense of duty to both his cause and to his mother, but he could only serve one. Moreover, if he went to war, he’d be just a tiny part of a huge cause. His contribution probably wouldn’t be great, but he would be contributing to something that would affect millions of people. But if he stayed behind, he’d make an enormous difference in just one person’s life.”

So what’s the right answer? There is none.

Sarate said that the whole point of this example is that there is no right choice in the moral sense until the man has decided. His, and only his choice could define the right choice if he does so using the values he chooses to live by.

Many people face similar dilemmas these days.

Should you have children? Should you quit your job to start something of your own and risk your family’s security? Should you choose the career you’re passionate about or the career your family convinced you to choose?

How To Overcome An Existential Crisis (An Analogy)

Imagine a world where everyone could choose between two Virtual Reality (VR) masks to change their perception of the world. The first mask shows a beautiful world-view while the other shows a gloomy world. They all show the same things, but the way they present the reality is different.

For example, if you look at the sky in the night, the first VR would show you a sky filled with northern lights. The other one would show you a dark storm.

Which one would you pick?

The choice is obvious. You’d probably pick the one that will show you more pleasant perceptions even if they don’t affect the reality.

Now replace the VR with your mind. That’s what your mind does for you. There’s always a layer of perception that goes through reality. You could train your mind to have more pleasant experiences or you could let it make you miserable.

An existential crisis comes from a lens that alters your perception of the world.

As humans, we search for answers. We want to know everything. We can’t surrender to the fact that we don’t know everything.

The fact that we exist is not enough for us. Your mind wants to know WHY. It’s not you who wants to know the answers, it’s your mind (the “VR” set). And sometimes, you have to tell your mind to hold its horses. Tell it that you don’t know. 

And when you accept that you don’t know, it opens up doors of possibility. A possibility to try out different perceptions (VR sets). 

That’s when you gain the power and the freedom to choose your own reality. 

It’s about taking responsibility for your life instead of dropping it down. You create your own values, principles, and rules of life to live in accordance with them. You don’t define yourself with what happens to you. You change your circumstances or perceptions to create a new reality for yourself.

You do that, not because you think that there is a point to it or that you’ll be rewarded for it. But to make the most of your life experience because living this way becomes the reward in itself.

Who cares what happens after death? Who cares if there’s a higher power watching us? Who cares if we have free will or not? We’ll probably never know the answers to them. So why try to answer something that is out of our range? We can ponder and create beautiful art with these questions. But claiming to know the answers or coming up with a conclusion is a waste of time.

We don’t need the answers to everything. Curiosity is enough of a reason to celebrate the questions. An existential crisis gives you the opportunity to explore your childlike curiosity.

The other day I was in a discussion where a woman asked the two of us “What is life, according to you?”. I gave my long unique answer that was full of mystery, magic, drama, and surprise. And the other person said with a grinning face “What’s the point? We don’t have the answer to it anyway.”

That is the point. Because we don’t know the answers, we are free to use the power of human creativity and imagination.

Now I know there’s a downside of it — which is the birth of dogmatic religions and fraudulent claims. But that IS also the beauty of it. We need the evil and the good. The yin and the yang.

Without the villain, there will be no hero. And when there will be no hero, there will be no stories. And as far as I can tell, stories are the reason we have survived as a species.

You can design a life that helps you thrive. To do that, you need to create your framework to live by. As you do that, you become the creator of your own reality. If that’s not living life on God mode, I don’t know what is.

My Epic Life Framework That Beats All Existential Crises

After all that rant, let me give you something more practical to go do something useful and get rid of an existential crisis forever. Here’s my epic life framework that I live by. It’s designed for me and you’re free to use it or take inspiration from it to become your own God.

My Epic Life Framework

I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.

Joseph Campbell

Ambition (Doing)

Ambition sets a fire in your soul to achieve great things, to explore your potential and to serve the world. It includes:

Zen (Being)

Zen makes you aware of your consciousness and connects you back to the source. It includes:

  • Peace
  • Meditation
  • Awareness
  • Contentedness
  • Stillness
  • Simplicity
  • Patience
  • Spirituality

Joy (Celebrating)

Joy makes life fun and brings out the inner child in you. It includes:

Reason (Thinking)

Reason improves your thinking, shifts your perception and helps you make sense out of life. It includes:

As with everything, there needs to be a balance between the four. 

Too much ambition (without others) may get you to the top, but when you’ll get there, you’ll feel empty from inside.

Too much zen may enlighten you, but you’ll never explore your limitless potential and die without sharing your gifts.

Too much joy may make you feel happy, but you’ll be deprived of true fulfillment from life.

Too much reason may make you smarter and wiser, but you won’t experience the miracle of your existence as you’ll get lost in your thinking self and confuse it with your identity.

If I maintain those four elements, no existential crisis befalls upon me. I may die, but who cares because I’ve already lived. I would love to extend my life as much as possible, but I celebrate the concept of death as it gives me the drive to live life to the fullest each day.

When you’ve made peace with death, you know you’ve started living a great life.

And when you’re living an epic life, you don’t have time or space for an existential crisis. You’re too busy living in states like flow, awe, blissfulness, and other emotions.

You humbly accept that you don’t know a fraction of what’s out there and you never will. You have this life to live, not to figure out its meaning. You can create meaning out of your life to live a more fulfilling life, but that’s just one part of it. For me, it lies in the “reason” part of the framework that I’ve created. Other times, I’m doing (Ambition), being (Zen) and celebrating (Joy).

Here are a few practical examples of how I do it:

  • I remind myself of my goals (Ambition)
  • I do something about them (Ambition)
  • I participate in nature (Zen)
  • I connect with my true self (Zen)
  • I optimize my health for vitality (Joy)
  • I connect and laugh with others (Joy)
  • I write in my journal (Reason)
  • I read and learn (Reason)

In addition, I have clarity over what makes me happy and the values I live by. I remind myself of those things every day and I work on them to build my desired character.

When I do all that, life feels like a game. I’m enjoying the process where there are endless levels to beat. The game could end at any time (with my death), but that’s what makes it even more interesting. When I constantly remind myself of my death, I appreciate the game and put more effort into playing it right.

Existential Crisis FAQs

What are the existential problems?

Existential problems arise from the thought that your life is meaningless and everything is absurd. They could come in the form of existential dread, existential anxiety, existential depression or existential angst.

Are existential crisis normal?

Yes, an existential crisis is more common these days. People are more depressed and anxious than ever before and one reason for that is an existential crisis.

What triggers an existential crisis?

In most cases, an existential crisis is triggered when a person goes through a trauma, loss, life-changing event, fearful experience, hopelessness, or drug use.

Embrace the void and have the courage to exist .

Dan Howell

Life is full of problems, and we are the problem-solvers. You could waste your life trying to solve useless problems or you could choose better problems. What problems are you solving ? When you make your struggles worthwhile, you feel fulfilled. You make the world a better place. You start living.

Living a life of passion and purpose is the ultimate way to beat an existential crisis…

Prakhar Verma

Prakhar is the creator of Design Epic Life. His mission is to help ambitious people design their epic lives so more people can truly live before they die. Sign up to the DesignEpicLife newsletter to stay up to date!