April 24, 2019
You may already be familiar with the idea of nihilism, the belief that there is no intrinsic meaning to life. You may also be wondering how this seemingly depressing philosophy could combat depression rather than amplifying it.
Similarly, using optimism to resist depression’s pull sounds like a twist on the false aphorism to “just be happier”. If you’ve decided to continue reading despite your skepticism, you possess the curious mind that you’ll need for this article.
In describing optimistic nihilism, we’ll be touching upon philosophical topics, so please put on your philosophy hats at this time.
Optimistic nihilism views the belief that there is no underlying meaning to life from a perspective of hope. It’s not that we’re doomed to live in a meaningless universe--it’s that we get the chance to experience ourselves and the universe we share. The optimistic nihilist looks at a world lacking meaning and purpose and sees the opportunity to create their own.
Optimistic nihilism can be an incredibly empowering belief. In embracing it, you have the power to change your experience from a negative one to a positive one.
Not by simply “being happier”, but by practicing better self-care, like exercising, meditating, cultivating loving friendships, and getting a good night’s sleep. You are free to make your own meaning and discover what makes you happy.
Optimistic nihilism deals with the existential concept of “The Absurd”. Human beings naturally seek meaning, but we live in a world with no innate meaning. We are tiny creatures that live only briefly compared to the universe too epically large and old for our brains to comprehend. The friction between incongruous concepts like these creates a dilemma: The Absurd.
To resolve The Absurd, optimistic nihilism advises us to accept it. It embraces the feeling of surrender. There are many things in life that we cannot control, and the optimistic nihilist is grateful for this. It narrows down what we have to worry about.
The more you believe you have control over something, the more you identify with it. When you think you have a choice whether or not to be depressed, you start to be defined by it. This can quickly turn into your depression swallowing you whole.
Surrendering to depression doesn’t mean giving it control. It means you embrace the fact that it will always be a part of your life. Paradoxically, the less you try to control your depression, the more control you have over your life.
Optimistic nihilism isn’t a cure for depression. It’s a way of looking at upsetting concepts like death with a more accepting attitude. You can’t choose whether or not to be depressed, but you can choose how you wish to mitigate it.
The fact that you don’t have complete control can be scary, but it also sets you free. It allows you to focus on what matters, and what matters can be whatever you want it to be.