The modern world has offered humanity limitless opportunities and possibilities for a prosperous life. Today’s individuals can travel wherever they wish with the advancements in transportation, access a wide variety of flavors on supermarket shelves, enjoy entertainment venues, and lose themselves in the virtual realm. They have endless alternatives to satisfy their desires and whims. Once they have the financial means, the range of products they can purchase is dizzying. They not only buy products but also purchase services, reputation, and status with their money. They enjoy life by spending, buying, and consuming. They eat excessively and have fun in their own ways. Many have become slaves to bodily pleasures.
However, as they immerse themselves in the world of materialism, they distance themselves from ethics and spirituality. As they become trapped in the digital and virtual world, they become more isolated. The allure of city life leads them away from nature and its beauty. The more they direct their attention and focus outward, the more alienated they become from their inner selves. As they get lost in the wheels of production and consumption, they become robotic and lose their human qualities. The more they engage with current events and political agendas, the further they drift from knowledge, wisdom, and insight.
As a result of all this, they fall into an existential void and experience a profound crisis of meaning. Some find a way to overcome this crisis and continue with their lives, while others resort to suicide as a solution. With the advancement of statistical science, we can access detailed information about the general state of humanity.
According to 2021 figures, in the United States, 48,183 people died from suicide, 1.7 million attempted suicide, 3.5 million planned suicide, and 12.3 million seriously contemplated suicide. In 2022, the number of people who died by suicide was 49,449. The death rates caused by drug and alcohol addiction, which can be considered indirect suicides, are much higher. In 2021, the number of people who died from drug overdoses exceeded 106,000. Between 2015 and 2019, approximately 140,000 people died annually due to alcohol-related causes. As of 2020, there are over 37 million drug addicts in the United States, and the alcohol usage rate is over 62%. These numbers are truly alarming and horrifying.
In addition to suicide, drug addiction, and alcohol, there are numerous other problems that humanity must contend with. For example, in recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in the use of antidepressants. In most countries, the percentage of people using antidepressants is over 10%. Millions of people complain of burnout and seek solutions for it. Stress has become an integral part of modern life. Those who seek the help of psychologists and psychiatrists due to trauma or personality disorders are countless. In our era, psychological and mental illnesses have reached their peak.
In addition to these, there are problems like not belonging anywhere, feeling orphaned, and being estranged from oneself. Many feel like they are lost in an infinite universe or among crowds they live with. They experience an identity crisis and feel the pain of loneliness to their core.
As some experts have also pointed out, a significant cause of all these suicides, depressions, and mental illnesses is the existential void or crisis of meaning that people deeply feel in their inner worlds but cannot fill. Victor Frankl calls this the mass neurosis of our time. (Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 143)
Most people do not feel the existential void because they are too busy trying to fill their stomachs and life is a rush. However, when they achieve prosperity, retire, or find themselves alone, they feel it deeply. They understand nothing from free time and vacations except for entertainment! This means music, dance, parties, women, alcohol, gambling, drugs, and similar pleasures. Today’s individual satisfies their bodily pleasures, indulges in temporary and deceptive pleasures instead of turning inward, contemplating nature, and thinking about existence.
However, no matter how much satisfaction these things may provide, they only make a person happy up to a point. They cannot fill the void created by the lack of meaning. As Schopenhauer said, nothing in this world, even within the realm of possibility, satisfies a person, quenches their intense desires, meets their demands, or fills the bottomless pit of their heart. (Schopenhauer, The Meaning of Life, p. 9) Yet, like a person drinking seawater, they continue to do the same things. Each time, their insatiability and dissatisfaction increase a little more.
It’s as if in today’s world, the sole purpose of life, as in all living species, has become life itself. We live to live. We live to get more out of life. We try to make life enjoyable with hobbies, fun activities, and to savor it. Therefore, all our interests focus on ourselves, our interests, and our pleasures. We cannot tolerate anyone, not even our family members. Friendships lose their sincerity and warmth, families disintegrate and fall apart. Nobody trusts anyone. Because we are always at the center; there are our expectations to be met, our pleasures to be satisfied.
On the other hand, the only living being that lives knowing they will die is humans. And death is an extremely difficult and agonizing reality to accept. Can a person who does not know when they will die but lives with the constant shadow of death, feeling its breath on their neck, truly be happy? Furthermore, the greatest capital a person has is life, time. But they cannot hold on to it. With each passing day, they lose their capital and become a little poorer. A poor person who sees that their beloved life, which they are deeply attached to, is slipping through their fingers, how can they ease their agony? How can they endure disappearing, being forgotten, decaying, and becoming food for insects? Modern humans find the solution in not thinking about death. Whenever the thought of death crosses their mind, they lose their appetite, their throat tightens, and they lose their peace of mind. Instead of facing death and reevaluating the meaning and purpose of their life, they find the solution in indulgence and getting intoxicated.
There’s also this aspect of the matter: no matter how comfortable a life we live, no matter what worldly opportunities we have, something always ruins our mood. Because deaths, illnesses, disasters, accidents don’t let us go. Our desires and cravings have no end. Our egos are never satisfied with anything. The sweetest moments are left behind and leave us with their bitterness. The uncertainty of the future constantly gnaws at our minds. We can never be sure of what we fear, and we can’t get rid of the worries and anxieties that consume us. Feelings like envy, ambition, and greed prevent us from appreciating what we have, even what we have becomes worthless, and we cannot enjoy it. Thus, modern humans, unable to find satisfying answers to the question of life’s meaning and unable to pursue a noble purpose, numb their minds with games and entertainment. When the narcosis they take cannot alleviate their pain, they put an end to their lives.
Modern humans, enslaved by materialism, have begun to grasp the importance of spirituality, values, and meaning again. Seeing a market in this, the modern world immediately put meaning merchants on the stage. They have created a profitable industry by implementing spiritual therapies, mystical and healing methods gathered from different religions and cultures. Metaphysical quests such as meditation, Kabbalah, astrology, bioenergy, theta healing have emerged. However, expecting these techniques to provide a comprehensive worldview to humans and give meaning to their lives without relying on divine revelation is in vain.
In conclusion, in the modern era, our wealth, opportunities, comfort, prosperity, and quality of life have increased, but in return, meaning and purpose, spirit and spirituality, ethics, and values have evaporated. We have lost the meaning maps that shape our mental worlds; our inner worlds have become barren. The beliefs and values that keep the individual, the family, and the community alive have disappeared. The defense shields that could help us cope with life’s challenges have been taken away from us. As a result, psychological problems, personality disorders, neuroses, traumas, and addictions, which we have not yet fully faced, have emerged. Finding permanent solutions to these problems is very difficult until we understand the existential void and crisis of meaning underlying them.
It should be remembered that the way a person interprets life and the goals they set for themselves determine how they live; they form a relationship with life, people, existence, and the Creator accordingly. The feeling we call peace and happiness does not depend solely on the quality of life, the satisfaction of pleasures, but on the tranquility of the mind and heart.