Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Why Live? Three Authors Who Saved Me During an Existential Crisis

Celine Leboeuf
Originally posted 22 AUG 21

Here are two excerpts:

At the age of thirty-two, these questions plunged me into an existential crisis — a period of doubt about the value of my very existence given the inevitability of my demise. Did a fulfilling life simply mean checking off all the boxes? Or was there a deeper meaning to my finite time on Earth? If the latter was true, I had to confront the promises I’d been handed down from my society since childhood. My teachers and family had encouraged me to focus on professional success, and my culture added that a romantic relationship, solid friendships, and community would seal the deal. This was not a late “quarter-life crisis” about which careers or interpersonal connections to cultivate. No, what bothered me was death itself. Did any career or relationship matter in the face of it? To understand whether life was worth living, I now needed to grapple with my mortality.

My instinct as a philosophy professor was to dig into works on the meaning of life. I had received a Ph.D. in the field three years earlier, and during my final year as a graduate teaching assistant, I’d helped with a course on the meaning of life. Although my academic research was about feminism and the philosophy of race, I knew I had the tools to solve my predicament. So that’s how I found myself on a journey through the history of literature, psychology, and philosophy to answer my doubts about life’s worthwhileness. From August 2018 to June 2019, I woke up at 6 o’clock nearly every morning to pour over dozens of texts on the meaning of life.

Throughout my quest to understand why life was worth living, I found hints of answer in many places: Friedrich Nietzsche; the contemporary philosophers Susan Wolf and Lars Svendsen; Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly’s study of Western literature and nihilism; Victor Frankl’s famous Man’s Search for Meaning; and the psychiatrist Irvin Yalom’s massive Existential Psychotherapy (yes, I did read all five-hundred twenty-four pages). While all these readings shed light on my existential preoccupations, three works stood out along the way. They each articulate a different path toward understanding why life is worth living, and I recommend them to anyone who is seeking to answer this question.


My life was worth living — despite its finitude. The text cured me of my existential worries, but I doubt that I would have learned from it had I not first pondered Tolstoy’s and Camus’s solutions. Although it may be less known than either A Confession or The Myth of Sisyphus, “Is Life Worth Living?” proved to be invaluable. James bravely dives into the question of life’s worthwhileness in the face of death. And perhaps because the text was originally an address, his style is deeply personal and moving. But more than anything, what was so powerful was that his argument carved a middle ground between traditionally religious and atheistic responses to my crisis.

James has marked me — for life. I’ve shared his address with friends, and it became the impetus for a course that I now teach at my university on the philosophy of death. “Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact” has taken root in my psyche. I repeat the phrase like a mantra whenever I question the purpose of my finite existence.