Compared to the immortal world, an individual is insignificant. However, when faced with the triviality of their lives, people often wish to deny this fact. They begin to desire a comprehensible unity in the world and seek knowledge in order to diminish the size of the universe and increase their own importance. Yet, this all-encompassing certainty that explains life and gives life meaning is impossible to find. Ultimately, the conflicting idea of wanting universal acknowledge and the world’s inability to fulfill that need creates the feeling of the Absurd.
This conflict with the world is a fundamental aspect of human nature, explored extensively in Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. In this essay, Camus shows that genuine happiness is possible only when an individual evolves from avoiding the absurd to coexisting with it. The Universe is inherently a state of formless chaos. This directly conflicts what individuals expect from the universe. This perpetual state of disappointment and contradiction ultimately results from the comparing and juxtaposition of two incompatible ideas – our desire to have meaning in life juxtaposed with the idea that life has no meaning.
They are faced with their inner desire to find reason and unity in the world, a world that provides nothing except for empty, meaningless phenomena. This contradiction creates the Absurd, which does not exist on its own in the desires of the individual or in the universe they live in, but within the confrontation between the two. People only feel the absurd when the need for answers is coupled with the universe’s silence. Faced with the feeling of the absurd, rather than perceiving themselves as individuals with free will and agency, people reduce themselves down to mindless followers of monotonous routine.
Desires, choice, and actions become futile, and individuals conclude that life is ultimately meaningless. The pointlessness of life, which creates the feeling of absurdity, is something humanity often attempts to deny. Instead of embracing, people often try to elude this feeling. This act of eluding often shows itself as hope. When individuals hope for a different life, when they hope for meaning, when they hope for improvement and change, they are trying to refuse the existence of the absurd.
They through themselves into different lifestyles or commitments, attempting to make change. They go through these movements, working towards a better life or whatever goal, believing them to be filled with meaning. Overtime, these repetitive actions become cumbersome and a consequence of habit. They begin to feel the weight of the daily grind despite the commitment of their actions, but rather than face the absurd, they often try escape to a different, opposite lifestyle, altering themselves once more in pursuit of an intangible goal.
While these changes may feel drastic, ultimately, these changes are not dichotomous. Rather, they are just different forms of absurdity, where one type of suffering just evolve and transforms into a different kind of suffering, where actions just become habit once again. This repetition of pointlessness cause individuals to feel detached from the world, alone and isolated. They become a stranger to the world, figuratively and literally exiling themselves from the homelike comforts of a meaningful existence.
This loneliness ultimately causes them to continue eluding and seeking diversions. Individuals try to deny that life is meaningless in the first place, attempting to be in harmony in the world, to feel authenticity, to learn, and to find certainty. But even with the hope, because of constant failure to obtain what they really want, they cannot deny the existence of the absurd. However, when the individual finally sees an unaltered reality unhindered by conflict, they can develop full awareness.
For example, when Sisyphus is at the top of the mountain, looking down at the boulder that has rolled, he is able to acknowledge and see his fate with full awareness, for “awareness… is the case [where] the absurd has disappeared” (103). In the state of awareness, there is a constant reminder and reflection of the futility of life, breaking their narrow-mindedness and providing the space to reflect. They become aware of the normality and circularity of their pain, reinforcing the idea that this suffering inescapable, but also universal at the same time.
By even trying or even dwelling, they are just eluding themselves and blindly hoping from something more, taking them away from reality. After all, the awareness cannot bestow enlightenment itself, but directs the thoughts of someone who is ready to listen. It serves as the medium through which they are able to realize the idea of common consciousness, found within themselves but is untainted by personal judgments and subjectivity. By highlighting universality and showing everything, suffering and the absurd reflects the innermost, eternal essence of humanity.
By living without reservations and drawing happiness from experience, individuals will ultimately be able to reconcile their conflict with the absurd. They can be free, receptive, and live with no goals. They can see unbiased truth and live with full awareness of the futility and beauty of life. By accepting their fate, they have harmony, living life without doubt. Because they live in full reality, they “must” be happy because they are equipped with their own experience. They draw their happiness from experience, and not an illusion of something better.
The genuine happiness they feel, deriving from their own life, results in small moments of lucidity and freedom. Life becomes victorious because they concentrate on their freedom, the refusal to hope, and the knowledge of absurdity. After all, “the lucidity that was to constitute [their] torture at the same time crowns [their] victory” (121). When individuals abandon their hope, fate will not seem so terrible. Instead, they find genuine happiness. The Absurd is the conflict between human desires and reason, and the universe.
This conflict exists as the individual in consciously aware. Thus, in order to fully understand and accept the absurd, the individual must maintain an awareness of the conflict without attempting to conquer it. The absurd fate is only terrible if there is continuous hope, if there is something that is worth reaching for. Only relative to something better is the individuals’ fate bad. Thus, with full awareness of the fate and of no preferable alternative, then the life and fate can be accepted without feelings terror.
With acceptance, the sorrow and melancholy of a meaningless fate disappear. Thus, acknowledging certain truths, regardless of the despair, is enough to make them less awful. With this acceptance, individuals can then appreciate life, because they will accept it without any reservations. The more experiences, the more awareness of each passing moment, the more one lives in the present rather than hoping for something more, the fuller and happier the life.
Instead of wishing for answers, or wishing to give answers, or wishing to provide a lasting legacy, a happy individual only tries to reflect the world, acknowledging the insignificance of himself, his life, and his work. Happiness therefore becomes connected with the awareness and realization that personal fate is self-determined, that there is no potential for anything better – rather life is purely what an individual decides it to be. They are able to live, doing anything they deem fit, no matter how inconsequential.
The concept of importance and even comparison fades because living in the present makes the question of significance utterly insignificant. By living in good faith, they can face the absurd. Instead of escaping or denying its existence, they can develop the unstrained ability to live with the feeling, achieving certain lightness that parallels enlightenment. The individual human experience is the only real thing in the world, so if genuine happiness exists, it must be based on the realness of experience, rather than the denial of it.
Happiness must be rooted in the present, not in the hope of an unreachable future, faith, or anything that transcends immediate, personal experience. Happiness must exist from accepting the absurd rather than escaping it. If happiness comes from denial, then happiness would be an escape from the absurd. Happiness would be unaccepting, and life would therefore be inherently unhappy. Thus, if genuine happiness exists and is achievable, then those who have accepted their fate, such as Sisyphus, “must be happy” (123).
After finding truth and freedom, and therefore happiness, individuals are able to live with and embrace their insignificance. Trying to combat the absurd both highlights their feeling of meaninglessness and provides the diversion from that feeling. However, by listening and becoming fully cognizant, they can become free because they live only through experience. Even though the world is eternal and mankind is mortal, by embracing reality, humanity ultimately can seize control of life and enjoy without reservations.