I don’t want to die but I ain’t keen on living either. What do you think of a statement like this one?

…as answered on Quora….

I don’t want to die but I ain’t keen on living either.

What do I think of that?

It would be helpful to know how old you are. If young, I would counsel caution. It is probably a passing phase. And if you make irrevocable decisions in your current condition, you may prevent the flowering of future values and life options. Pushing through a time like this, taking hints from traditional virtues as promulgated by most common sense folks from our species’ long past seems wisest.

I thus suggest a Stoic ethic.

But much may be said for a pared-down hedonism, as well: finding little to live for in this world is no great tragedy, the trick being to take control of your options and make the most of the little you find enjoyable. And meaningful. This is the Epicurean way: minimax. Avoid the worst pains and accept as more than adequate that which is enough. Savor what you have. Be at peace with it. And certainly do not fret about what you cannot change. Including your past. Including your itches and hankerings or lack thereof.

The great danger of your predicament is to fall downwards to the next level: nihilism. Seeing no value in anything, one chooses to act in ways that in turn yield little of value, and in your wake you can scuttle goodness in the future, for you or others. Nihilism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. What begins, perhaps, in mistake, if acted upon can make all too real the initial error.

One should avoid making errors that compound upon themselves.

The condition you identify, of ennui and perhaps consequent anomie, is not too far from melancholy or sadness. And, in such a condition, what to do? I have taken the Epicurean plan, as described by T. H. White in The Once and Future King:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

The world is a curious place, and curiosity is the apt response. It provides for many of us who are not far from your condition a source of harmless and even utile pleasure. Self-education. The first step to take control of one’s life is to take control of one’s education. And once one does this one steps above mere Existence and into the status of self-actualization, up to the level of Historical Man (or Woman). And then many more options open up.

And here is a truth that the philosopher Herbert Spencer expounded upon: a course of action set upon to the point of habit conjures up its own pleasures.

Acting as if life mattered makes life matter.

I think this is true despite seeming like a kind of magic — and no matter what your age.

Epicurus said that as well, in his epistle to Menoeceus:

Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young alike ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed towards attaining it.

And if you wonder why bother with wisdom, consider: its opposite is folly, and folly provides its own punishment. If you embrace folly, ruin is most likely. And with it, misery.


Left: Harry Brown; Right: Epicurus.