5 things to consider during your next bout of existential ennui

If you’ve found yourself in the murky depths of listlessness, confusion, or uncertainty as many times as I have, then you know that although these feelings are like the emotional equivalent of bad leftovers, they usually lead you, in however glacial and crooked a pace, towards a future version of yourself that’s a little tougher and a little smarter.

But when you’re stumbling down that dark twisty path, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel can feel impossibly far away. As far as non-threatening feels go, existential angst can really be The Worst.

Here are 5 things to consider next time your thoughts  are swirling around a little too much in your gut.

1. It is possible to feel two ways at once without one being inherently correct or true to you.

This is one of those truths that can seem both obvious and absurd. When we’re torn between two ideas we naturally feel at pains to choose which one is right or true. When researcher and author Jamie Holmes introduced me to this concept of dual feelings during his interview with The Atlantic, it was a huge weight off my chest not because it absolved me of making decisions, but because it allowed me to feel normal for my occasional lack of one.

[Holmes] suggests that in less strained situations, in our everyday lives, we might avoid a lot of anxiety and jumping to wrong conclusions by accepting that sometimes people do feel two ways at once. Things can be similar without being exactly the same. Some things we can never know.

Julie Beck, The Benefits Of Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty

Uhhh you mean things can be similar….ISH? #namedrop

2. Your willingness to sit with ambiguity is a sign of intelligence.

So often life presents us with a nebulous, shitty fog of feelings and circumstances that don’t quite line up in our oft-travelled cognitive pathways. It’s overwhelming and confusing and trying to escape it can take every last ounce of our energy. But the human ability to accept ambiguity and uncertainty as parts of life is ultimately a sign of emotional strength and intelligence.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

3. An increased tolerance for uncertainty will allow you to draw more thoughtful and considered conclusions.

Not only should we practice embracing ambiguity because it holds a worthy spot on the spectrum of Acceptable Human Emotional States (which is now official because I capitalized it), but our life choices will be exponentially better for it. The above-mentioned Holmes actually wrote an entire book on this concept, which I’d recommend if you personally struggle with ambiguity or are not a robot.

Dwelling calmly among feelings of uncertainty, to be clear, will help you make a more rational decision.

Jamie Holmes

4. Your confusion points to your complexity.

From the dark pit of anxious feelings, the world can seem like a busy blur of perfect people that have never questioned themselves. Actual reality notwithstanding, others’ sense of calm can stand to highlight our internal struggles. But the ability to question our selves, our lives, or our choices points to a level of open-mindedness and critical thinking ability.

The world is a complex place, it’s only simple to simple people.

A willingness to be puzzled is a valuable trait to cultivate, from childhood to advanced inquiry.

Noam Chomsky

5. Your angst comes from a long line of greats.

And if all else fails, wear your distress and ennui like the high-minded, self-indulgent accessories that they are. Revel in your emotional depth. After all, this was the stuff of all our world’s greatest philosophers.

Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.

Marcel Proust

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.

René Descartes

Sartre sees anguish as a mark of maturity, a sign that we are fully alive and properly aware of reality, with its freedom, its possibilities and its weighty choices.

The School of Life

Life is a lot odder than we think, but it’s also as a consequence far richer in possibilities. Things don’t have to be quite the way they are. We’re freer than we allow ourselves to imagine amidst the ordinary press of commitments and obligations.

Jean-Paul Sartre

Our suffering isn’t merely chaotic – a mark of failure, an error – it can be linked to admirable things…empathy, forgiveness, kindness, and focus.

Alain de Botton

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Friedrich Nietzsche

The red thread is that doubts and fears aren’t necessarily something we need to escape or solve. They stand to give our lives depth and color and, with a little patience and acceptance, we are better for them. Nothing lasts forever and your swirly gut is no exception. Hang in there baby girl.

4 thoughts on “5 things to consider during your next bout of existential ennui

  1. wow, mega huge THANK YOU… I want “Nothing lasts forever and your swirly gut is no exception. Hang in there baby girl” tattooed on my body. Ever since I got past my freshman year of college, my mind and gut has just been a ball of nerves/worry/motion/listlessness/etc. I had a particular bout back a few months ago that I named “meta-thinking” because I was just thinking about my own thinking so much I started to feel insane. Next time I’m in my bunk bed trying to “meditate” to still my thoughts, I’ll definitely refer to this article. Glad you & The Similarish had become such a kindred soul for me. xx


    • Charlotte, my kindred soul sis. You’re my type grl. Although I can’t promise you’ll escape ambiguity any time soon, your ability to recognize it and name it already point to your superior mental coping skills. Pretty sure I wasn’t thinking about meta-thinking at your age. *bowing down to you*


  2. “The world is a complex place, it’s only simple to simple people.”
    You know I agree with this wholeheartedly.
    Growth and intelligence comes from being aware and understanding your own lack of knowledge. Only, as you say, “the simple”, think they are truly knowledgeable. Those of us who question everything know better.
    I needed the few words of encouragement today, my gut is pulling me in seven different directions as is the per usual. I’m going in front of a judge and video taped on an argument against my peers in a few hours… it was nice to read, as usual, that I am not alone in this.
    Thanks chickadee and hope you’re doing well!


  3. Pingback: Existential ennui | kilififish

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