Most people have gone through difficult times. Very difficult times. And, to my joy and sorrow, I am one of them. This experience, as well as observation of suffering in others, has taught me that it sometimes leads people to ask this question: Why suffering? Later, inevitably comes at one point the questioning of the meaning of our very existence. Lived deep enough, we can call this an existential crisis, which is characterized by a total lack of motivation and a feeling of profound emptiness. In appearance very negative, it can ultimately lead you to a quest for the meaning and purpose of your life. And, believe me, an existential crisis can be the beginning of a powerful transformation. In my case, it was the fundamental spark that threw me on what I now call my quest for wisdom, truth, and happiness. It has changed my life from A to Z.
According to Dr. Paul T. P. Wong, the six ultimate questions of human existence are summarized as follow: “1) Who am I? 2) How can I be happy? 3) What should I do with my life? 4) How do I make the right choices? 5) Where do I belong? and 6) What is the point of building something only to see it swallowed up by death?” It is said that the process of going through such questions successfully can be very beneficial. Some further say that passing through an existential crisis is necessary for optimal functioning. Dr. Paul T. P. Wong affirms that the process leads you from identity crisis to authenticity, from crisis of discontent to happiness, from meaninglessness anxiety to meaning and purpose, from isolation anxiety to community, from general anxiety to responsibility, and finally from death anxiety to death acceptance and self-transcendence. In my case, at least, this is mostly true. When I read this article, I came to question the strong belief I had that my experience was exceptional. After all, people going through a sickness, an accident, the death of a loved one, or a profound spiritual experience are great in number; it is thus reasonable to assume that people going through an existential crisis are also great in number. The only catch, however, is that it needs to be “successful,” since such an experience does not turn right for everybody.
Unfortunately, this kind of case is often ignored or treated as mere depression requiring standard treatments. This can be due to a lack of adequate tests and knowledge about the construct of existential crises. Having up-to-date psychological tests evaluating such crises at hand could be fundamental in diagnosing and treating this condition. The construct is not only importantly underrepresented in psychology, but only tests that evaluate related constructs are available, such as the Scale of Existential Thinking (2006), the Existential Loneliness Questionnaire (2002), and the Existential Anxiety Questionnaire (1974). The two latter are outdated, but the former is a step in the right direction, even though its authors acknowledge that the construct still needs more development and additional measurements. Creating and promoting new, adequate tests measuring precisely existential crises would facilitate proper guidance in such situations: a clinician would know that a particular patient is in need of something for which medication or psychotherapy is insufficient. Instead, what is necessary, I believe, is a personal quest for meaning, and people should be encouraged to engage in such a quest. For people interested in promoting this orientation, Existential Positive Psychology (EPP) is one new, promising path.