Can’t Find Meaning in Your Life? It’s Time to Meet Sartre!

· October 9, 2015

Jean-Paul Sartre (1908-1950) was a highly acclaimed and celebrated French philosopher. An avid reader of the great classics, he was strongly influenced by the philosophy of Husserl and Heidegger. He held strong atheistic beliefs and took an interest in Marxist thought in the final period of his life. Sartre is best known, however, for his profound interest in the meaning of life for human beings. 

He who is authentic assumes the responsibility for being what he is and recognizes that he is free to be what he is

-Jean-Paul Sartre-

Man is characterized by his pursuit of perfection. Perfection that resides in individual liberty, in the establishment of transcendent personal goals, and in the freedom to be and to choose. It is man’s subjectivity that rules the universe — “man chooses his own self during his life.” His life, unique and non-transferable, is the one that will bear its weight directly on the universe and all that is divine (and not the other way around).

Sartre’s work is fascinating, and it would take us a long time to analyze even a minor fraction of it, but maybe through a few well-known quotes, your interest will be piqued in this greatly inspiring writer.

“Let us not lose any of our time. There may be better ones, but this one is ours”

How many times have you lamented being born in this day and age? While it may be true that we are not going through one of the best stages of work, social, or creative life, it does not seem like a very inspiring time for young people, who see their future moving toward fields and places that they had never imagined (and/or wanted).

In Sartre’s words, we can see that this same feeling of loss, pessimism, and disappointment with the present has been experienced by many people in many ages. Maybe every era seems empty to those living in it, but each is necessary for generations to come. Every era plays its role, and you are now part of it. Play yours!

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“Like all thinkers, I confused disappointment with the truth”

Many of us view life’s events through negative lens. But don’t forget that all science starts with doubt, and maybe your pessimism can help you to ask questions that others are not asking and thus generate answers that no one before you has had.


We live in the age of “Keep calm” and “Be happy,” which are good recommendations if we recognize that in order to live these two states, it is absolutely necessary to experience the complementary “negative” states that are equally human, such as anguish and bewilderment, disappointment, sadness, or weariness.

So stop judging your pessimism and draw creative power from it. Maybe your “Be happy” can then come from there.

“Man is condemned to be free, because once he thrown into this world, he is responsible for everything he does”

Stop making excuses. About the system, the pain of your break-up, the perversity of your parents, and stop believing that you haven’t been free to be what you really wanted to be.

Freedom is not granted by external actors, but rather comes from how your spirit, which is by default free, approaches life. This is the clearest definition of freedom and responsibility that can be given to us.

This comes to be related to another declaration made by this brilliant writer: “It is not important what others have made of us, but what we do with what they have made of us.”

“Everything has been figured out except how to live”

Yes, you were right. This life is a mess, tremendously complex. Don’t try to learn how to live it or give others answers about how to do it. The only way to get out of this jam is to follow your instincts, which on many occasions is crushed by the impositions of others and society.

Seek a formula that helps you get through a concrete situation better, but be careful: it won’t be the same for all of life, nor the best for other people in the same situation.

Like they say in the movie Casino, “There are three ways of doing things around here: The right way, the wrong way, and the way I do it.”

Happiness isn’t doing what you want, but wanting what you do.”

“And… voilà!” Here we find one of the most difficult phrases to accept.

How can I be happy washing dishes if I have two university degrees? It’s a valid question but according to Sartre’s philosophy, it’s a matter of understanding the relevance of every activity for your life plan.

Maybe you are a writer in search of stories, a language-learning fanatic, a Marxist looking for theory from daily work practices, a son committed to improving his sick mother’s quality of life.

Don’t focus on the activity itself, but on the relevance it has on your life plan and your values. Maybe it has an important role to play, even though it doesn’t make sense. Whichever is the case, look for an activity that allows you to love what you do according to the life that you want for yourself and for those who are important to you. You may already be in it or designing it. But find meaning in everything you do, because it may be that what you want is precisely what you are letting get away. That is a necessary step in your development.

“Commitment is an act, not a word”

Stop being like so many politicians who only talk about programs, like night conquerors who promise without showing, like revolutionaries who have neither read a book nor been present in a fight. Let your actions be all that you need to say, because as Woody Allen said, “Things are not said, they are done, because by doing them, they speak for themselves.”

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“In theory, to dream is to live a little, but to live dreaming is not to exist”

Too many situations in which you seem ruled by your thoughts? You have to try to seek real-world relationships, people, and situations. Look for them, make them, and repeat them in a thousand different ways. That is the life, your realizable dream, and your worldly paradise.

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“Existentialism is not a form of atheism, but rather, it declares that even if God did exist, that would change nothing”

Sure, many people in difficult situations look for some kind of spirituality that can help them overcome something unpleasant that has exhausted all of their physical and emotional means, but look for mystical causes and solutions to a problem that concerns you, and it might distract you too much from your path and the means that you do have in life and maybe haven’t known how to put to good use (friends, sports, reading, love of nature…).

We don’t know whether there is an afterlife, but don’t worry too much because your life isn’t going to be fixed magically by appealing to this. That’s how humans spent most of history, but don’t lose much time in your own life on that. Live it the best way you know!

We hope that these quotes have made you reconsider some things in your lives if you are going through a confusing time. Don’t forget that sometimes human beings lose themselves, and other times they find themselves, and philosophers like Sartre have dedicated themselves to leaving an excellent mark, giving us light for those moments when the darkness seems the deepest.