The following article expands on highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.
Authored by: Leon Garber
Existential anxiety encompasses our fears of death, life-changing decision-making, our sense of isolation, and the possibility of our lives being meaningless. Children often experience these fears more acutely, as they’re in the initial stages of asking these big philosophical questions. Because we don’t have the big answers, we often struggle with answering their questions.
Additionally, we fear addressing our own existential concerns because they may cause confusion, anxiety, and hopelessness. We tend to leave them to the experts. But in doing so, we miss opportunities to help our children learn the tools needed to cope with them. These questions aren’t going to go away, no matter how far you run. So, in this presentation, I’ll present concrete ways of helping your children, teaching you how to become more tolerant of your own existential anxiety, more honest with your children about what you can and can’t know, and what they’re really looking for when they ask why they’re here.
Contrary to appearances, children don’t necessarily want answers; they merely want to feel more confident in dealing with their worries. And, they want to believe they matter. I’ll help you understand how you can be important without being special, or mattering to the universe. I’ll help you explore the pitfalls of religious doctrines and strong philosophical convictions. And I’ll cover ethics and meaning in a world that doesn’t seem to provide it for us. These questions don’t have to continue to scare us as much as they do and we can discover what’s meaningful for us. Laypeople, as well as philosophers and theologians ought to be able to try to answer them. They unite all of us, regardless of profession or skillset.
- Existential Thinking is Normal – All of us have these questions
- Living with Purpose Helps Alleviate Our Fears of Death
- Solely chasing success helps you feel good in the short-term but, while associated with higher peaks, is associated with lower and more long-term valleys, as your tolerance for feeling pride increases and you need bigger hits of it (e.g. better experiences) to feel prior degrees of happiness and, having nothing else to satiate your emotional needs (due to your limited interpersonal connections), your risk for depression increases.
- Relationships, while creating lower peaks, are more predictive of long-term contentment and life-satisfaction, even more so when balanced with personal achievements.
- As you cultivate both interpersonal and professional success (both of which are necessary to having an optimally good life), your significance in and contribution to your community helps ease the anxiety related to your decisions, sense of isolation, and fear of death.
- You matter to those who love you, even if the universe doesn’t care about you.
- There’s no completely objective standard to judge your choices. Therefore, what’s right and wrong is only known after the fact, when seeing the consequences.
- Your children don’t want answers per se; they’re asking for help managing their difficult emotions, which doesn’t necessarily entail the need to have them.
- Leon’s Existential Cafe: https://existentialcafe.blog/
(Explores and helps others navigate through issues which are pertinent to all human beings, from death to self-esteem.)
- Seize the Moment Podcast: https://linktr.ee/seizethemomentpodcast
(Seize the Moment Podcast, hosted by Leon Garber and Alen Ulman, is a project centered around making the most important and useful ideas in psychology, philosophy, and personal development mainstream. We feature guests from all walks of life whether they be artists, musicians, comedians, entrepreneurs, philosophers, psychologists and many more. There is a saying, “the most essential knowledge is not yet made widely accessible.” We want to make that information accessible and change as many lives for the better as possible.)
- Staring at the Sun – Irvin Yalom
- Existential Psychotherapy – Irvin Yalom
- At the Existentialist Cafe – Sarah Bakewell
Leon Garber is a philosophical writer, contemplating and elucidating the deep recesses of the human soul. He is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor/Psychotherapist — specializing in Existential Psychotherapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and Trauma Therapy — and manages a blog (Leon’s Existential Cafe) exploring issues of death, self-esteem, love, freedom, life-meaning, and mental health/mental illness, from both empirical and personal viewpoints. He also co-hosts Seize the Moment Podcast.