How and Why Nihilism Can Prevent Suicide
The more miserable you become, the more you cling to silver linings wherever you can find them. As I have touched upon in brief before, misery can be a good thing in doses. I have described misery as the floor in a metaphorical tower, where climbing the tower steps is symbolic of working toward a goal, and the top of the tower represents achievement of the goal. I have called the floor the “most comfortable place in the world to be, because there is nowhere left to fall,” but that is not entirely true. In the most extreme circumstance of misery, the floor can fall out from under you in a scenario otherwise known as suicide.
In your darkest hour, it might become that no silver lining catches your eye. It might be that you feel completely empty, and you cannot find any value in your life at all. What you might not be suspecting is that this pitch-black void could be precisely the thing to save your life–if every other measure has failed.
To be sure, there are any number of reasons why suicide is not a preferable course of action. Likely topping the list are the family and/or friends who will have to deal with the devastating repercussions (emotional and practical) of such an act. Basically, the death of an able-bodied person is always an inconvenience, because it means he or she is no longer providing a function, tangible or intangible, to other people. For instance, a slacker who dropped out of high school and spends his days doing nothing in his parents’ basement may not be providing tangible value through money raised or work produced, but he is still fulfilling the function of being a son whom his parents persist in loving. Another (albeit cartoonish) example could be a Scrooge-esque miser who is despised by all, but the life of businesses depend on him, because he is so skillful at his work. When the slacker or the miser dies, one way or another, the functions he provided are missed, even if by people who never directly knew them. The obligation to continue fulfilling functions for the people to whom you are beholden can probably be seen as the strongest argument against suicide.
If misery is so extreme that it overrides your sense of duty to fulfill depended upon functions, then there are only two courses of action to alleviate it. You can seek outside help, or you can commit suicide. Outside help can be as simple as discussing your pain with a friend or family member, but in this scenario, it almost certainly warrants the attention of a professional (or at least a hotline). And in the most severe cases, outside help can equate to high-dose medication and a straitjacket. General personality and the physiology of the brain will of course be what determine the severity of the help that is required. At any rate, the point stands that outside help is always an option.
When you decide definitively to commit suicide, it either means that all attempts to seek outside help have not succeeded to your satisfaction, or you have simply decided against seeking outside help for any number of reasons. In either case, this decision marks the moment at which you have fallen through the metaphorical floor, and you are no longer able to find hope in anything. Now, the only thing left in your world is you, alone with your misery.
Emptiness as an Asset
To choose suicide, your misery must necessarily negate your sense of self-worth, or else you will not rationally be able to go through with it. Granted, suicide is seldom ever a rational action, but the logic behind the decision only needs to hold true long enough for the suicide to actually take place. A revolver or a mountain of pills does not take long to enact its intended effect, after all. Thus, however briefly the suicidal logic prevails, it can be agreed upon that your self-worth has been wholly defeated. In other words, you have decided your life does not hold enough value to be worth sustaining.
However, as I have discussed in yet another article, value is an inexorably subjective concept; currently existing tools cannot absolutely assign objective value to any person or thing. If we choose to accept the idea that value only exists according to individual perception, then we suddenly command much greater oversight into how much value to attribute to our lives. Unfortunately, in the end, the way you value your life will likely be measured largely according to how well you have attained your self-selected goals–and if you have decided to commit suicide, you probably have already failed dramatically in the attainment of the goal or goals that are most significant to you.
So instead of trying to convince yourself that your life has meaning, might it be possible to ward off suicide by considering exactly the opposite? Imagine that you have embraced the idea that your life has no intrinsic value. This may sound like a bad proposition, but it is only bad if you choose to compare your life with the lives of people whom you continue to believe have value. Instead, if you embrace a nihilistic perspective, you can decide that no life has intrinsic value at all. Suddenly, in this scenario, your life ceases to be miserable. Why? Because when no life holds value, it is no longer desirable or even possible to quantify the quality of a life. You are all living equally meaningless lives, all devoid of value, but also necessarily devoid of misery.
Frankly, this is not even the most difficult position to defend. As I have discussed in even another article, your life is destined to make only the smallest ripple in the grand scheme of the universe. Not everyone can carry the historical significance of Alexander the Great, but even for those of us who can command such importance and its butterfly effect implications, it requires a supreme level of arrogance to assume that humanity will persist throughout eternity. Heat death or a Big Crunch scenario is likely to be the end of all living things in our universe, unless a method is found to escape. And any society that has developed technology so spectacular as to have mastered travel across the multiverse is bound to have no practical use for the study of history from eons ago (history which includes us). In other words, there is no conceivable scenario in which our lives can be reasonably shown to demonstrate value in the long run of time.
The difference between you and Leonardo da Vinci suddenly does not seem so great, does it?
Nihilism & the Ego
Granted, there is one big, obvious hole to punch in the logic being espoused here–if you decide that no individual life has value, that decision does not suddenly prevent suicide. All it can do is create a 50-50 likelihood that you will choose to live versus choose to die. But since you started on the cusp of suicide in the first place, with a roughly 0-100 likelihood in favor of choosing to end your life, an upgrade to 50-50 is a pretty significant boost. What ultimately tilts you in one direction or the other depends on your ego.
If you choose to look at your life as just a blip in the enormousness of the cosmos, then suicide is still prone to be the final outcome. However, if you decide to let your ego prevail, if you decide to let your basic survival and reproductive instincts reign, then you can go on living. This might sound like it spits in the face of nihilism, and to an extent, it does–but no more so than the strong nuclear force in the face of the expansion of the universe. In other words, not only is it possible for the ego and nihilism to coexist at odds with each other, but it is even possible for the ego to selfishly override the much larger practicality of nihilism for a while. And in this case, “for a while” equates to the length of your lifetime.
It is kind of strange and incredible that such esoteric parallels can be drawn between our lives and that of the universe itself. But when you choose to live, you have time to contrive silly little comparisons like these.
The Will to Live
Nihilism cannot enrich your life. It is generally one of the worst perspectives a person can regularly maintain, if the aim is to live an enjoyable and satisfying life. But when misery becomes too extreme, and there is absolutely no way to find value in your life, nihilism can be the welcome last resort that saves your life. And any perspective that can keep you alive is probably worth entertaining.
So I’ve been suffering with suicidal nihilism for a long time. And I’ve tried to convince myself that the impact I have now is the only one that matters in the grand scheme of existience because it’s the only one I will experience. What tips or advice do you have for someone who is overthinking and making himself miserable like me? I feel that if I just “don’t think about it” I’ll be running from my problems. I don’t know what to do right now. Can you help?
Hi, Tanish. Firstly, I should say that I am in no way qualified to give mental health advice of any kind, and you should accept nothing I say as the gospel! That being said, I can give you my own personal, non-medical, non-qualified opinion.
I can see how “don’t think about it” could be an unattractive strategy to you, and when you phrase it that way, I even agree with you. It’s healthy and courageous not to run from problems. But let’s look at it another way–what if you just *didn’t have the time* to think about it? What if you take on new challenges of some kind (challenges that are of intellectual or artistic interest to you) that keep your mind busy and engaged very often?
I hope you’re not already rolling your eyes at my suggestion, because I know it reeks of, “just distract yourself,” which sounds an awful lot like “just don’t think about it.” But what I’m suggesting is better than simple distraction. If you take on new, stimulating challenges specifically to shake off nihilism, then that means you’ve effectively turned nihilism into a positive motivator in your life–a battery, even! Maybe you’re “running away” from nihilism, but the place that you’re running *to* is a better, more satisfying life where you’ve pushed yourself to grow and accomplish more. I like this strategy because it acknowledges nihilism, but rather than treat it as a wall, it weaponizes it to our benefit instead!
I don’t know your life, of course, and I know “take on new challenges” is in itself a vague suggestion. So I’m sorry I can’t give more specific advice there. But maybe you could just start by looking at your interests, and picking one out to further develop–or maybe even trying to combine two interests. For instance, I love writing and video games, so I’ve gotten into writing about video games professionally. I’m also making a video game with my brother, since he knows how to program, and I’ve been challenging myself to learn how to make pixel art. I’m a lousy artist, but I’m so stubborn and meticulous that I’ve been proud of my results so far. And best of all–it’s all kept me far too busy to think about how my life has no value! Haha.
So those are my thoughts on the subject. Thank you for reaching out. But I want to reiterate again that I have ZERO qualifications to talk about anything pertaining to mental health, and if you think my advice is not sufficient to keep you healthy and happy, then please seek out qualified medical opinions. Thanks for reading, Tanish!