Miguel de Unamuno on What It Means to be Truly Alive

Life, in all its unpredictable glory, can leave you feeling adrift and uncertain. There are more questions than answers.

Life is a perplexing puzzle, and it often feels like we’re trying to assemble it without the picture on the box.

That’s why there are no universal rules that apply to every life.

Your trajectory is unique to you.

Even though there are no clear answers, we can learn from those who have come before us.

History has a lot to teach about living your best life.

That’s why I’m excited to share Miguel de Unamuno’s compelling ideas on untangling life’s enigma to live our best lives.

Unamuno, a Spanish philosopher, novelist, and poet of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, approached life’s profound questions with a unique and intensely personal perspective.

His wisdom can anchor you amidst the chaos.

Unamuno’s observations are a testament to the human struggle to reconcile the rational and the emotional, the intellectual and the spiritual, and the finite nature of existence with our infinite yearnings.

“The Tragic Sense of Life” and “The Agony of Eros,” are two of his work that resonate with a deep sense of existential curiosity and a profound recognition of the human condition’s inherent contradictions.

His ideas invite us to grapple with the fundamental questions that haunt our existence: What is the purpose of life?

How do we find meaning in a world that seems indifferent or absurd? What is the nature of our innermost desires and fears?

These are not abstract inquiries for Unamuno but rather intensely personal and existential challenges that demand engagement at the deepest level of our being.

Let’s unpack some of his profound thoughts and confront the inherent tensions and uncertainties that come with the quest to make sense of life.

Unamuno’s work reminds us that in the very act of wrestling with the complexities of existence, we find a glimmer of meaning, a fragment of truth, and, perhaps, a profound sense of what it means to be truly alive.

Break free from the deterministic influence of your past experiences

“We should try to be the parents of our future rather than the offspring of our past.”

In other words, don’t become a passive victim of your past.

Unamuno invites us to view our lives as open canvases on which we can paint our own narratives and destinies.

It’s a call to embrace the freedom and responsibility that comes with being human and to recognise that we have the power to shape our future in meaningful and fulfilling ways.

Many people often feel bound by their past, as if their lives are predestined by the events and decisions that have already happened.

Unamuno challenges this notion. He suggests we should not be passive recipients of our past but rather active creators of our future.

He emphasises the importance of taking responsibility for our own lives and decisions instead of simply perpetuating patterns and beliefs that never serve us.

That means making conscious choices and decisions that align with our own values, aspirations, and authentic selves.

Nurture and shape your future through conscious actions.

Unamuno is advocating for a proactive and forward-thinking approach to life. He suggests that we should not be passive recipients of the consequences of our past but rather take charge of our destiny, much like parents guiding their children toward a better future.

For a good life, take complete control of the trajectory of your life, unburdened by the constraints of the past.

Dare to pursue goals others might deem absurd or unfeasible

Albert Einstein was told by his teachers that he would never amount to anything. He had dyslexia and struggled in school.

However, he never gave up on his dreams of becoming a scientist. He eventually developed the theory of relativity, one of the most important scientific theories of all time.

Unamuno believed life was inherently absurd, and in confronting this absurdity, we could find the motivation to strive for the seemingly impossible.

It’s a sentiment akin to the existentialist notion that life lacks inherent meaning, and we must create our purpose.

“Only he who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible,” he said.

The only way to reach the impossible is to challenge the limits of what we perceive as possible. Attempt things that others might deem absurd or unfeasible to break through conventional barriers.

Unamuno encourages us to be courageous and persistent in our pursuits. You might uncover uncharted territory and achieve feats that were once thought impossible.

Unamuno was critical of conformity and the pressures of society to conform to established norms and beliefs. He believed that true progress and personal growth often came from challenging these norms and pushing the boundaries of what was considered possible.

Existential suffering forces us to confront our limitations, values, and beliefs

Unamuno thought human suffering, struggles and pain are integral and fundamental aspects of life.

“Suffering is the substance of life and the root of personality, for it is only suffering that makes us persons,” says Unamuno.

His views align with the idea that life is not a constant state of joy or ease; rather, highs and lows manifest in various forms, including physical, emotional, and psychological.

According to Unamuno, suffering acts as a transformative force in our lives. Through challenges, we are tested, and our character is shaped and defined. This idea draws from the notion that adversity forces us to confront our limitations, values, and beliefs.

Your personality or unique individuality emerges and develops in response to suffering. In times of distress or difficulty, you may grapple with questions of identity, purpose, and meaning.

These existential struggles can lead to personal growth and self-discovery, ultimately shaping your personality.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’,” says psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl.

Your response to suffering changes everything.

Of course, suffering is not always easy to bear. It can be painful and difficult to deal with. However, if we can learn to embrace it and to find meaning in it, it can help us to become stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate people.

Actively engage with life — Instead of passively going through it

“Sow the living part of yourselves in the furrow of life.”

Active participation in life is what makes us come alive. Engage with life and invest your time, energy, and authentic self in your everyday experiences.

Unamuno invites us to be active participants in own life stories, making the most of every moment and opportunity by bringing our true selves to the forefront.

Life doesn’t merely happen to you but is a field to plant the seeds of your intentions and aspirations. Take initiative, make choices, and actively shape your journey.

Just as a farmer invests time, effort, and care into planting and nurturing seeds to yield a harvest, Unamuno suggests that investing yourself fully in your life’s journey can lead to a more fulfilling and rewarding existence.

Like any crop, life has seasons, including times of growth, abundance, harvest, and periods of challenge and adversity.

Embracing the cyclical nature of life, as implied by the farming metaphor, encourages us to accept the ups and downs and make the most of each phase.

Sowing the “living part” of yourself means investing in your own personal growth and contributing positively to the world around you.

Your actions, choices, and authenticity have a ripple effect, influencing and inspiring others in their journeys. “The only way to give finality to the world is to give it consciousness,” says Unamuno.