Quick Takes:

  • All humans feel angst, you aren’t alone
  • This angst manifests itself in the feeling of a lack of purpose or direction
  • We’re in a constant inner struggle with ourselves to find our purpose
  • This purpose, once found, translates into our life’s unique meaning
  • We each have the ability to find our purpose, direct and meaning…if we look

Stress. Frustration. Angst.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the human condition. But wait a second, is that all? Is humanity defined by longing and need, and nothing else? That can’t be all; there has to be more.

Or did I just define what it means to be human in the previous two questions and a sentence? Well, now three questions. The problem with being human – and yes, I concede that there are many benefits to being human, too – is the feeling of more, and the inability to validate if “more” really exists.

Evolution has brought upon humanity an underlying current of existential angst, one that hums in the background quiet enough to where we’re used to it, but loud enough to where it affects our thoughts, perceptions, and therefore our actions and outlook.

Existential angst, for those who make fun of French philosophers like everyone should (I kid), highlights the fact that humans are in constant search for deeper meaning, yet ultimately know that life has no meaning. Therefore, the only point of life is the unique meaning each individual gives it, placing stress on the fact that we’re solely responsible for our purpose and happiness, and can blame no one but ourselves for our failures and ultimate unhappiness.

But, Regardless of the reason for our stress, frustration and angst, only we can take control of our feelings. Which, if you think about it, gives you all the power in the world to turn the human condition into a massive positive.

A War Against Ourselves

There’s a battle that’s been a’brewing, and its finally come to a point. And when the battle’s been escalating for the past 200,000 years, it makes a little more sense as to why we’re faced with such an inner struggle.

I wrote about it previously, but Homo Sapiens are thought to have evolved roughly 195,000 years ago. This means that, surprisingly enough, we haven’t changed physiologically since then. But our surroundings have.

Regardless of how evolved we’ll become, and how many concrete structures we’ll build around us, we’re animals, and forever will be. This means that all the instinctual desires we identify with “lower form animals” are also ingrained in our human psyche. I refer to these instincts as our “monkey mind,” and it encompasses everything we feel on an instinctual level.

Eat, sleep, sex, reduction of stress and decreasing risk are all needs of animals, and are all needs of our monkey mind. On this level, stepping outside of our comfort zone is dangerous. Why decrease our comfortability when the whole point of existence is to survive and propagate? Our monkey mind tells us to play it safe: don’t stick your neck out for anything that isn’t necessary for your survival.

Yet, as our collective understanding of the world has expanded, we’ve achieved higher and higher levels of personal actualization. Through our increased understanding of science, philosophy and art, we’ve increased the level of our internal thinking. No longer are we solely driven by an animalistic, fight or flight mentality. Now, we’re pulled by a higher desire for purpose and legacy as much as we’re pushed by our instincts.

This desire for self-actualization is conveniently referred to as our “higher mind.” This is our modern thinking that tells us that our lives have a higher meaning and that we need to follow our purpose. Pretty great, right? Carpe Diem, or higher mind says!

But herein lies the root of our angst. There’s a constant struggle between our monkey mind and our higher mind, and one we can’t seem to reconcile.

Our higher mind tells us to step outside of our comfort zone, take chances and follow our hearts. Our monkey mind tells us to stay within our comfort zone, reduce risk and follow our instincts. This, of course, puts us directly between a rock and a hard place. No matter what mind we listen to, we’re going to feel relatively unfulfilled.

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If we ignore our monkey mind, we’ll be put in a constant state of unrest as we go against our instincts of safety and survival. If we ignore our higher mind, we’ll be put in a constant state of unrest as we feel unfulfilled in the pursuit of our life’s ultimate meaning. This is the first cause of our angst. 

Purpose Pulls us Forward

Our existential feeling of unease doesn’t stop with our split personality. I think it’s safe to say that once both minds have been identified, almost everyone will choose to pursue their higher mind. Let me reiterate by saying that once they’ve been identified, because many of us walk around completely unaware of our condition, and are constantly stuck between opposing internal views.

But, even if you’re one of the lucky few who’s identified and pursued your higher mind in an attempt to live your passion, your woes won’t stop there. Well, I should say our woes, because I’m right there with you!

Because even as we’ve decided to pursue the thinking of our higher mind, we become faced with the hardest question we’ll ever be tasked to answer: what’s our unique purpose?

While life has no ultimate meaning in the grand scheme, it does have a very real and personal meaning for which we give it. Well, what’s your unique passion and purpose? Hard to say, no?

This feeling that our lives have no ultimate meaning, but that we want to give it a unique purpose, and the that many of us can’t define what that purpose is, causes our existential frustration and stress. This is the second cause of our angst.

There are two steps that our higher mind must take in order to actualize our unique purpose and reduce our angst. First, each and every one of us, for ourselves, has to discover our individual purpose.  Then, once discovered, we need to manifest that purpose in the real world. To us, that’s what success is: the actualization of our unique purpose. 

But many of us can’t even define our purpose, let alone make it come true. And this is where our frustration and stress comes from.

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Once we’re able to push past the frustration and discover our purpose, we’re faced with the stress that stems our inability to guarantee that we’ll achieve that purpose.

Chase Your Feelings

Ultimately, your unique purpose is the attainment of a specific feeling within yourself. The physical manifestation of your purpose could be through philanthropy, charity, a new job or by increasing your income, but the root purpose is the feeling behind these physical manifestations.

And when you think about it that way, even the pursuit of your purpose, even the pursuit of the discovery of your purpose, even the pursuit of the identification of your higher mind, should yield you positive feelings, and therefore be a worthy purpose.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, but this time let’s say it together: the key is to become process oriented. Think deep, set a direction, and then focus on the daily process of becoming the type of person who can cross the finish line of that direction.

No matter who you are or what you believe, your thinking, whether you know it or not, will always look like this:

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So it pays to actualize your purpose as quickly as possible. Only then will you be able to cope with the angst, frustration and stress felt by all humans. If we turn the process of moving from our monkey mind to the discovery and and actualization of our purpose into our purpose, we’ll be much more equipped to deal with our existential feelings and therefore increase our happiness. Through a commitment to having unique experiences, we’ll find our unique purpose.

Dealing with our existential feelings of angst, frustration and stress doesn’t mean we’ll rid ourselves of them. These feelings are what it means to be human, and to decouple ourselves from them will make us, by definition, something other than who we are.

But, if we understand that we are not alone in this journey, and that it’s actually the journey itself that makes us special and unique, than we’re well on our way to manifesting our purpose in such a way that it not only changes our lives, but changes the lives of the people around us.