All people must deal with the question of meaning, and many deal with the lack of meaning. Finding meaning in life is at the heart of living a purposeful life. Existential philosophers tell us the same through the philosophy of existentialism which talks about finding one’s values, creating meaning and living a life with purpose. 

Viktor Frankl, a psychoanalyst and existential philosopher, gave us three ways through which one can find meaning to one’s life: by doing a deed or by creating a work; by encountering someone or experiencing something; and by the attitude taken toward unavoidable suffering. Existential concerns (experienced as existential crisis) are concerns that often arise as a result of age transition or as a result of having experienced a life altering event or sometimes having experienced a threat to life as well. 

Existential crisis is commonly experienced at the transition from teenage to young adulthood, roughly between the age of 18-21/22 years. Existential philosophers and thinkers like Frankl (1948) and Irvin Yalom (1980) tell us that a number of conflicts that the youth experience closely resemble the existential issues of an increase in freedom, choice, responsibility and awareness of isolation. Usually, the existential concerns revolve around the same. Some key tenets of existentialism tell us: 

  • When individuals realise they are free to make their own choices, they realise that with freedom comes responsibility for those choices and that induces existential anxiety. 
  • We all become aware that to find meaning in life, one must turn inward and not look outward or depend on the existing social structures—this brings a realisation that one is also independent.
  • No two individuals are the same or have same lives and thus no two individuals can have the same meaning. 

The novel drive that develops towards building the will to meaning is found equivalent to the developmental sequence that is seen in a person from childhood (where the focus is on pleasure), through young adulthood ( where the interest in power and identity starts to develop), to full and healthy mature individual (where meaning and value take essence in life).

The liberal approach of many youth, exposure to media and information as well as the willingness to find meaning is the hallmark of today’s youth. 

According to Erik Erikson (1963), youth create their meaning through the efforts of forming intimate relationships, establishing a stable identity and by being creative and productive. Many youth lack the awareness of the worth of meaning in life. This can lead to the youth experiencing a deep inner emptiness, and they are caught in what Frankl called the existential vacuum. There is no indication of what to do, how to move ahead. Sometimes, the youth do not know even what they wish to do and find themselves lost. This existential vacuum gets manifested as a state of boredom which often underlies various mental health conditions such as depression, aggression, addiction, suicide, anxiety and delinquent behaviour. Many times, the lack of social connectedness with  family, peers or society makes it difficult or close to impossible to search for meaning. 

Looking at what causes this existential vacuum in many of Generation Y is their stress of dealing with various issues involving their educational institution (for example, homework, grades, violence/ bullying, ragging), family (fear of losing parents, broken families, worry over health issues), peers (bullies, gangs, uncooperative, mean, hedonistic, fickle friends, vicious teasing, informal initiations into codes of conduct), the world (scarcity of safe air, food andwater, global warming, crime, terrorism, nuclear war), and the future (college, jobs). 

The youth today are facing a traumatic societal, familial and cultural shift. They are eye witnesses to maladjustments in the family, they experience broken and wrecked relationships, betrayals, unemployment, cutthroat competition, apprehensions about their unknown and uncertain future and inability to achieve the desired success. They are also recipients of the millennial burnout as a result of which most often they also have experienced hopelessness, worthlessness, helplessness, heightened mental conflict, craving for basic needs of love, affection and sexual fulfillment, inter-generational conflict and chastisement by society. It is common to come across the youth today that talk about their underdeveloped sense of self, confusion and dilemma. 

However, having existential concerns is not all bad. Existentialism tells us that one must take the route of defying the existent in order to find one’s existence. We asked a few youth to understand what gives meaning to their life and what we received as responses was nothing less than beautiful. Many of them said that they manoeuvered their meaning through the work they do; some said it was art and music that gave meaning to their lives; someone elaborated how uncertainty gave them hope as it held the potential for chance. A young female pointed out that looking through life as a collective and her progression helped her understand her meaning. A young psychiatrist said that being wholly present and giving his best to his patients was his meaning and many more also found their meaning in community living and the ability to create safe spaces for people. 

The liberal approach of many youth, exposure to media and information as well as the willingness to find meaning is the hallmark of today’s youth. 

They don’t hesitate to ask questions, stand up for what they believe in, defy the oppressing and echo the voices of change that they want to hear. They are willing to walk towards and build their meaning with the support of the work they do, their interests, literature, films, art and conversations.


  • Pragya Lodha

    Clinical Psychologist & Programme Director, Mental Health

    One Future Collective

    Pragya Lodha is a Clinical Psychologist. She is the Programme Director for the Mental Health vertical at One Future Collective.
    One Future Collective: We are a feminist youth led not for profit nurturing radical kindness in people, communities and organisationswith a vision of a world built on social justice, led by communities of care. We do this through our work on knowledge, advocacy and community building.