Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Finding Purpose in a Purposeful Life
    • Overcoming Nihilism: The Purpose Of This Blog Post
  • Definition of Nihilism
  • The Issue of Purposelessness
    • Nihilism, Community, Virtue
  • Modernity and Nihilism
    • The Impact of Nihilism on Modern Life: What Has Created Modern Nihilism?
    • Understanding and Sympathisizing With Modern Nihilism
  • How to Find Purpose in Life: Philosophical Responses To Nihilism
  • Strategies for Finding Purpose: Ridding Yourself of Vices, Pursuing Virtue
    • Exploring Virtue And How It Creates Purpose
    • How Vice Contributes To Nihilism
  • Reflecting on Personal Interests and Skills
  • Conclusion: Overcome Nihilism
  • Actionables: Work Towards Overcoming Nihilism
    • Reading List

Introduction: Finding Purpose in a Purposeful Life

“Lack of originality, everywhere, all over the world, from time immemorial, has always been considered the foremost quality and the recommendation of the active, efficient and practical man.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

There are many struggles in modernity. Economic inequality sees the richest of the rich only grow their wealth. Climate change strikes fear in a populace that feels powerless to control government and corporate greed. The average person is unhealthy and weak-willed, unable to demand more from themselves, let alone the rulers who rule them.

Is it any surprise nihilism may be on the rise? You can argue from trends such as political polarization, rising mental health issues amongst the youth, especially after government lockdowns, and an increase in mental health disorders that people are more lost and hopeless than in previous decades.

This hopelessness makes sense. Income inequality and increasing government power show how little influence the average person has on politics. Most people struggle to own homes or create families, typical hallmarks of the youth progressing to a fulfilling adulthood. The population is on the decline while inflation increases at a rapid rate. People lack family and religion to help them mentally and materially mitigate the effects of our society’s dysfunction.

However, there is hope. As with all terrible ideas, the indomitable human spirit can defeat nihilism. When we look at the individual, we see a person capable of overcoming the most significant hurdles and excelling, even imperfectly, in a corrupt world.

Overcoming Nihilism: The Purpose Of This Blog Post

purpose over nihilism | woman looking to the sun

Your life has a purpose. Never give up.

Today, I want to discuss purpose, nihilism, and individualism. I will start by briefly defining nihilism. Then, I will discuss the issue of purposelessness and what causes it. Next, I will highlight the importance of solving nihilism. Lastly, I will review the steps I’ve used to defeat feelings of purposelessness.

Through this post, I hope to show how determining a clear purpose can transform our lives from aimless wandering to meaningful direction.

Definition of Nihilism

Nihilism is a philosophical belief that life lacks intrinsic meaning, purpose, or value. It argues traditional values and beliefs are unfounded because existence is senseless and meaningless. This worldview often conflicts with religious beliefs and moral idealism.

Although easy to straw man, nihilism has various branches and nuances. There is Optimistic Nihilism, which views the lack of meaning with hope because there is potential for joy and fulfillment despite this absence of inherent meaning. Additionally, Ethical Nihilism breaks down into its own three camps: Amoralism, Egoism, and Moral Subjectivism. Existential nihilism posits no moral or religious codes.

I will focus on nihilism’s more accepted and traditional definition for simplicity and argument. However, I want to be fair and acknowledge that nihilism, similar to other philosophies I may disagree with, has layers when one goes down the rabbit hole. I will also include books for further reading to help you form your opinion further.

Philosophical History of Nihilism

“There must be somebody there, because somebody must have said ‘Nobody.'” – A.A. Milne

Nihilism was first defined in the 19th century. However, it has roots as far back as Greek philosophers like Pyrrho and Sextus Empiricus.

Friedrich Nietzsche is the most well-known nihilist. Nietzsche’s nihilism critiques religion and moral codes. However, he challenged individuals to create values and find meaning through personal authenticity, creative expression, and willpower. His views were often more complex and nuanced than people credit him. But his ways of looking at life and its lack of inherent meaning have defined nihilism ever since.

By the 20th century, nihilism expanded into philosophies such as existentialism and postmodernism. Both philosophies challenged and supported the nihilistic worldview.

The Issue of Purposelessness

On the one hand, nihilism and other philosophies like existentialism and postmodernism align with individualism because these philosophies value personal freedom, responsibility, and the creation of meaning through individual choices and actions. Conversely, these nihilistic philosophies reject moral consistency and virtue.

For example, political nihilism rejects the idea that political and social institutions are crucial to solving complex social and moral issues. A healthy individualist severely doubts the effectiveness of institutions because personal responsibility is the only solution to social issues and personal failings.

However, moral nihilism is the belief that moral values are baseless and that no action is inherently right or wrong. Moral nihilism is incompatible with individualism’s reliance on virtue ethics, the non-aggression principle, and moral universality.

Nihilism, Community, Virtue

Nihilism is the logical destination of an individual without community and virtue ethics. When we do not subjugate ourselves to something greater, we become untethered. This “something greater” does not have to be government, God, family, or the Church. It can simply be virtue and the universal standards virtue sets.

Nihilism is similar to hedonism or self-worship, where the individual chooses to give up instead of enduring difficulty for their sake and the sake of others.

As with most things, modernity has corrupted the nuanced aspects of nihilism and made the philosophy almost unbearable.

Modernity and Nihilism

nihilism comfort and greed

Modernity provokes despair in everyone. Part of this despair comes from systemic hardships. Some of it comes from too much comfort.

At the best of times, nihilism questions certain moral codes, ethics, and institutions. Individuals should challenge themselves and institutions to root out the bad and reinforce the good. However, modern nihilism is about removing meaning and responsibility so one can live a meaningless life of hedonism.

One of modernity’s goals is to strip you of a sense of purpose. If you have a purpose driven by virtue, you become inoculated against nihilism. A modern nihilist is defined by his cultural expressions of disillusionment, skepticism, and apathy.

You would think his skepticism makes him the perfect rebel—quite the opposite.

Modern nihilists express themselves through ironic detachment, cynicism, and social justice. The modern nihilist will spit at the nuclear family but “bravely” embrace drag queens. He will mock law and order but riot over the death of a career criminal. He will glare at improving his health but gladly force others to take an experimental vaccine.

He is unbearable because he rebels against institutions and ideals that grant meaning and responsibility, yet he embraces institutions that support his vices.

The impact of nihilism on modern life: What Has Created Modern Nihilism?

I would argue a lack of community and external pressures have created modern nihilists. We are a culture that lacks religion, and our families continue to break down. Through these two institutions, our ancestors found purpose in the face of death, war, and famine. Most Westerners face too much comfort today, and we can’t even manage that.

With too much comfort comes an overindulgence and a vicious consumerism that has defined modernity. Consumerism offers nothing solid. You can’t costume your way to greatness or a purpose. By its very nature, consumption only produces waste, which isn’t impressive.

The average man has more control and power over his life than his ancestors. He is painfully free to do nearly whatever he wants. Unfortunately, his first desires are depraved sexual acts, eating, and complaining.

Therefore, the nihilist finds his life lacking because he himself is lacking. He has no direction or meaning because he refuses to give himself either. He consciously decides to give up and wants to make such failure profound.

Understanding and Sympathisizing With Modern Nihilism

To be fair, I do understand people’s pains and hopelessness. Our systems are broken and corrupt. Our leaders do not care about us, and we are simply neo-feudal serfs. Inflation, single motherhood, childhood trauma, and so on are difficult systemic issues that will destroy any individual’s progress and mental health.

An unhealthy society can lead to unhealthy thoughts and a sense of despair. We can’t solve these problems directly. And such powerlessness can lead to depression and the painful thought: “What is the point of it all?”

Therefore, modern nihilism, especially among younger generations, is a rational response to a broken world. Individuals are dependent on social orders and institutions. We may feel imprisoned by our impotence in the face of the mob, elites, and ruling classes.

And why should we trust these institutions? Why not rebel? The Catholic Church is far from innocent, and the public school system is full of predators. Corporations are greedy bastards, and the government doesn’t care about us at all. Purposelessness is a rational and comforting response to the grand evils we are facing. I don’t want to ignore or downplay this.

But life is not a prison. In the next section, I will explore how to overcome the feeling of hopelessness tied to modern nihilism.

How to find purpose in life: Philosophical Responses To Nihilism

Overall, you want to avoid the idea that life has no meaning because this simply isn’t true. There is meaning in how nature works, the sexual compatibility between men and women, our philosophical conclusions, and so on. You can find meaning if you are honest and willing to look.

Additionally, no one acts as if there is no meaning. Nihilists will still enjoy sensual pleasures like crappy foods, meaningless sex, and other distractions. They haven’t expressed their nihilism in monasteries. If life has no meaning, then why do modern Nihilists always pursue a life of sensual pleasure instead of a life of service?

My last argument is you can create meaning. You can define a purpose within a rational ethical system. Nothing you do is perfect; our ethical systems can’t account for all scenarios. But it is a strange thing to demand perfection from something as a means of justifying our rejection of it.

These philosophical arguments can help us adjust our focus to examine the purpose of virtue in combatting nihilism.

Next, let’s explore vice, virtue, and how virtue can help us defeat nihilistic thoughts.

Strategies for finding purpose: Ridding Yourself of Vices, Pursuing Virtue

“If you live today, you breath in nihilism … it’s the gas you breathe. If I hadn’t had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkingest logical positivist you ever saw right now.” – Flannery O’Connor

Even if one does not believe in God, or accept religion, you can easily argue that virtuous living is the purpose of life. To live, we must be rational. Man cannot build buildings, grow food, or sustain himself if he does not act rationally and use nature appropriately.

Furthermore, we can infer from the natural world and our own experiences that there are ways we ought to be. We ought not to starve to death. We ought to work well with others. We ought to fulfill our desires. To believe things should be different or better than they are is to envision a world that is not yet. To want a world that is not yet is to pass moral judgment on life as it currently is while desiring a specific potential.

We can compare all potentials to what ought to be. This comparison helps us derive what is best out of all possible scenarios, and we can perfect such a process through virtue.

Exploring Virtue And How It Creates Purpose

Virtue is right living. Virtuous actions are the ultimate oughts. We should be loyal because it is good to treat good people well. Do we always do this? No, but we should try to do this because being loyal to good people is how we ought to behave.

And you can selfishly rationalize yourself to these positions. Why should you be loyal to others? Because it serves your best interest to treat good people well, as they will have the resources you may need in the future. Why should you be courageous now? So you can settle problems before they grow, fester, and get out of hand.

There is no decent argument for vice outside of “it feels good.” Modern nihilists are simply hedonists with eyeliner. Very few nihilists will determine the meaninglessness of life and go be a hermit. Similar to determinists, the nihilist will argue passionately for his non-position as if his eating, sleeping, and pleasure-seeking don’t denote a purpose-filled life.

How Vice Contributes To Nihilism

Vice blinds you and contributes to nothing. Because we are so comfortable, we live empty lives. Like eating empty calories, we may consume but lack health, well-being, or nutrients. We are hollow.

This hollowness drives nihilism. A life of comfort and vice will never provide meaning. It is only through suffering for the betterment of ourselves and others that we have the strength to fight against purposelessness.

So, become more virtuous. Reflect on the 13 virtues and seek to embody them daily. See where people are suffering and seek to lessen their suffering. See where you are suffering and reduce it. Lastly, take your vices and eliminate them, slowly but surely, so you can break free of comfort.

Reflecting on Personal Interests and Skills

learning | school

Knowledge and personal accomplishments bring hope.

Lastly, by removing excess comfort, you can start to see who you want to be. Suffering sharpens the mind because we must learn to rationalize our pain and seek justifications for it. Comfort needs no justification because it is automatic.

Therefore, you must look at ways to self-reflect, such as journaling, meditation, and spiritual practices. When you feel yourself slipping into despair, believing that life is too complicated or has no purpose, you must aggressively examine why you feel this way. From there, you have to demand answers as to what you can do to reverse this feeling.

You cannot go easy on yourself. If you wish to improve, you must challenge your nihilistic viewpoints. Most nihilists arise from a feeling of hopelessness caused by laziness and greed. However, you can avoid this fate by constantly checking in with yourself and pushing beyond your comfort zone.

When you reflect, reflect on who you would like to be. What is your ideal version of yourself, and how can you work towards that? What is involved, and what is your desire? Our teachers and parents never taught us these questions. They only told us to think about how we can contribute to the GDP.

But the more meaningful reflections you do, the easier you can combat your nihilistic thoughts.

Conclusion: Overcome Nihilism

“But today’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and, in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in so doing blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness. If one is not cognizant of this difference and holds that an individual’s value stems only from his present usefulness, then, believe me, one owes it only to personal inconsistency not to plead for euthanasia along the lines of Hitler’s program, that is to say, ‘mercy’ killing of all those who have lost their social usefulness, be it because of old age, incurable illness, mental deterioration, or whatever handicap they may suffer. Confounding the dignity of man with mere usefulness arises from conceptual confusion that in turn may be traced back to the contemporary nihilism transmitted on many an academic campus and many an analytical couch.” – Viktor E. Frankl

Nihilism is only fought through right living. You don’t need God, government, or religion to provide meaning. You can easily reason your way to virtue. Once you arrive and accept the reality of virtue, you can move in a better direction.

I do understand the nihilistic impulse of many people today. To be fair, our society is deeply corrupt and our institutions are broken. The lack of hope and direction is not unwarranted.

But we can’t make things better unless we can improve ourselves. Through self-improvement and virtuous living, we can embrace the struggles of life with determination.

Become an Individual and overcome nihilism.

Actionables: Work Towards Overcoming Nihilism

  1. Nihilistic Thoughts: Have you ever felt swayed by nihilism? Has it ever held water in your eyes? Are there moments in your life when you thought there was no meaning? Are you still in this mental headspace? If not, what did you do to get out?
  2. Nihilism Within Your Community: Do you know of any nihilists or people with nihilistic thoughts around you? What are they like? Are they depressed, successful, or happy?
  3. Giving The Devil His Due: What about nihilism makes sense? Do you think it is compatible with individualism? What arguments and points do nihilists make that you agree with?
  4. Define Your Purpose: Take some time to write down what you believe your purpose in life is. What are your passions, values, and long-term goals? Reflect on how these can guide your daily actions and decisions.
  5. Identify Your Vices: List any habits or behaviors that you consider vices. For each, write down their negative impacts on your life and create a plan to reduce or eliminate them.
  6. Practice Gratitude: Every day, write down three things you are grateful for. Reflect on how these positive aspects of your life contribute to your overall sense of purpose and well-being.
  7. Set Virtue Goals: Choose one virtue you want to develop (e.g., courage, authenticity, gratitude) and set specific, achievable goals to practice daily. Track your progress and reflect on the changes you observe in your behavior and mindset.
  8. Engage in Community Service: Find a local organization or cause that resonates with you and volunteer your time. Helping others can provide a sense of purpose and connection to your community.
  9. Seek Mentorship: Identify someone you admire who embodies the virtues and purpose you aspire to. Reach out to them for advice and guidance on how to cultivate a meaningful life. If you cannot reach out to them, then study what they do, how they carry themselves, etc. Then, act as they act, so you can become as virtuous as they are.
  10. Read and Reflect: Read books, articles, or essays on purpose and meaning. After reading, reflect on the key takeaways and how you can apply them to your life.
  11. Connect with Like-Minded Individuals: Join groups or communities that share your values and interests. Surrounding yourself with supportive, purpose-driven people can reinforce your own sense of meaning.
  12. Daily Reflection: At the end of each day, reflect on your actions and decisions. Ask yourself how they align with your purpose and virtues, and identify areas for improvement.

Reading List

  • “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl: A profound exploration of finding purpose through suffering and the importance of meaning in life, written by a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist.
  • “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche: A philosophical novel that delves into Nietzsche’s ideas on nihilism, the Übermensch, and the creation of personal values.
  • “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker: Explores the human struggle with mortality and how the fear of death shapes our lives, behaviors, and search for meaning.
  • “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” by Jordan B. Peterson: A self-help book that offers practical advice for living a meaningful and purposeful life, emphasizing personal responsibility and virtue.
  • “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius: A collection of personal writings by the Roman Emperor that offers insights into Stoic philosophy and living a virtuous, purposeful life.

Please remember it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.

Refer to the linked articles and studies throughout this post for detailed evidence and case studies supporting these views.

*Image credit to Unsplash.