Tuesday, December 19, 2017

My Talk on Mid-Life Crisis #3 : Lessons from Existentialist Philosophy


It takes a modern affluent society to be able to muster the resources to even begin to have a mid-life crisis problem in the first place, so books on mid-life crisis are relatively new. However, existentialist problems have been around for quite a while and a Norwegian philosopher known as Peter Wessel Zapffe, in an essay called the Last Messiah, proposes four ways to cope with meaningless of life which can be easily adopted for people facing a midlife crisis.

a) Isolation

There used to be an advertisement for a radio station that say "Only hear the good stuff". The first approach is to isolate ourselves or tune out of the negativity that surrounds us.

One approach is to reduce our exposure to social media, which in December, tends to inflict a lot of psychic damage as friends fly off for their exotic holidays.

Another approach is to consider Jim Rohn's idea that you are the average of the five people that you closely associate with, so you may want to reduce your exposure to any friend who might be negative, patronising or simply have nowhere to go in life.

b) Anchoring

Our society has organisations and ideals that provide an anchor to your life. This can provide a sense of security and stability to your beliefs.

You can anchor yourself using a strong religious belief or you may wish to adopt the ideals of an NGO. You can participate in more religious activities. For atheists, humanists are becoming more and more active in Singapore. Even financial bloggers are united in the belief that, collectively, we have a better answer for your financial concerns than corporate companies.

c) Distraction

SMOL asked me why not just confine the answer to a mid-life crisis to simply Wine, Women or Song. I said this falls primary under the category of distraction. Furthermore, wine, women or song does not have the same cachet for Millennials as much as SMOL's Boomer generation.

I personally do not like this approach towards an existential crisis, although I have to admit that it is as valid as all the others. Sometimes the best approach is to simply find ways to distract yourself from the inherent meaningless of your life.

Material goods is one way of doing this which is why a Ferrari features prominently in someone's mid-life crisis. Engaging in travel or experiential goods is slightly better but it is also a form of distraction.

Distraction often costs money and you will run out of romantic sunsets eventually one day.

d) Sublimation 

Sublimation is hardest approach but it is ultimately the most rewarding way to deal with an existential crisis. It is the process of converting your existential angst into art. It is a creative act that results in the greatest works of Art known to mankind.

Innovation and creativity is definitely within the reach of a modern person. Even a blog allows something to be written and shared with everybody.

In summary, while the literature on mid-life crisis may not be able to provide a concise framework to deal with a mid-life crisis, solutions to existential problems by philosophers seem to be quite up to task.

Tomorrow I will conclude with some thoughts on how all this can impact the way we provide advice for personal finance to our readers.


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