A woman with high existential well-being as she smiles on a farm ranch.

Are you happy to be alive? Are you thriving or just surviving?

In Life Worth Living, Miroslav Volf, Matthew Croasmun, and Ryan McAnnally-Linz argue that a good life philosophy promotes existential well-being. It inspires you to take actions that make you feel good about your existence given your beliefs about the purpose and significance of life on Earth.

Keep reading to learn more about the argument these three Yale professors make.

Existential Well-Being

The authors argue that all life philosophies include existential beliefs about what it means to live well. For example, Wiccans believe living well means living in congruence with nature. They partake in seasonal rituals to honor and reinforce their connection with nature.

(Shortform note: Why should you care about your existential well-being? According to some research, enhanced existential well-being (also referred to as spiritual health) is associated with a variety of mental health benefits like better stress resilience, reduced risk of depression and suicide, and greater personal power. Additionally, studies on the link between religious practice and disease outcomes suggest that your existential well-being impacts your physical health.) 

The authors note that your life philosophy can promote your existential well-being even if it’s not based in traditional religious beliefs. For example, the authors explain that some atheist scientists incorporate unity in their life philosophies because they believe it furthers human evolution since humans who work together are more likely to survive and thrive. (Shortform note: Anthropological research suggests that the evolutionary need for collaboration is the basis of all moral systems and that there are seven universally accepted moral values, which include fairness and helping others.)

(Shortform note: In Waking Up, atheist Sam Harris explains how existential well-being can be achieved without religious beliefs or practices. Harris believes that spirituality is the practice of gaining a deeper understanding of yourself, as opposed to automatically identifying with your thoughts and feelings. This can be accomplished via mindfulness meditation, which is rooted in but not limited to the Buddhist religion. The benefits of mindfulness have been scientifically validated and popularized by psychologists, which means anyone can use mindfulness to promote their own existential well-being, regardless of their religious beliefs.)

To illustrate how your life philosophy can promote your existential well-being, the authors cite Robin Wall Kimmerer. In Braiding Sweetgrass, she writes that some Native American religions hold that human life depends on symbiotic relationships with other lifeforms—for example, we eat plants, and in return, we help plants grow. In accordance with those beliefs, Native American life philosophies promote existential well-being by encouraging you to form respectful, mutually giving relationships with the land you live on and the other lifeforms who live there with you: The idea is that to live well, you have to help others live well, too. 

(Shortform note: If you agree with Kimmerer that living well means helping others live well, you may want to follow her suggestions for putting that value into practice. For example, in Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer explains that expressing gratitude toward other community members, working with the land (for example, by gardening or planting trees), and engaging in environmental advocacy can strengthen the symbiotic relationship you share with other lifeforms.)

Promote Existential Well-Being Through Your Life Philosophy

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.