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The Wisdom of Insecurity

A Message for an Age of Anxiety

By Alan Watts
10-minute read
Audio available
The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan Watts

In The Wisdom of Insecurity (1951), author Alan Watts discusses the paradoxical nature of modern life: we pursue goals and covet material goods that promise happiness, but which leave us feeling empty and more anxious than ever. As we indulge in unproductive thoughts about the future or the past, we tend to forget about what is most meaningful – the present moment.

  • Anyone feeling unfulfilled in life
  • Anxiety sufferers searching for the secrets to happiness
  • People interested in contemporary philosophy

Alan Watts is considered one of the most influential interpreters of Eastern philosophy in the Western world. An advanced student of theology, his enlightening and compassionate writings continue to influence thinkers today. His other books include The Way of Zen and Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life.

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The Wisdom of Insecurity

A Message for an Age of Anxiety

By Alan Watts
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
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The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan Watts
Synopsis

In The Wisdom of Insecurity (1951), author Alan Watts discusses the paradoxical nature of modern life: we pursue goals and covet material goods that promise happiness, but which leave us feeling empty and more anxious than ever. As we indulge in unproductive thoughts about the future or the past, we tend to forget about what is most meaningful – the present moment.

Key idea 1 of 6

As the power of religion and social norms diminishes, life becomes more uncertain.

Do you ever feel anxious or insecure because of a lack of fulfillment in life? You’re not alone: this feeling is more common now than ever before.

Not long ago, the average person’s life was guided, or at least influenced, by the strict doctrines of religion. It might sound counterintuitive, but these strongly held beliefs about morality and the afterlife actually helped people feel more fulfilled.

The promise of an afterlife is especially grounding and reassuring.

Humans can put up with many of life’s harsh realities as long as there is something to look forward to. The devoutly religious can remain positive through the worst hardships because an infinitely blissful afterlife awaits them. But the waning influence of organized religion has shifted people’s outlook on life.

The twentieth century saw societies around the world moving away from many religious concepts. The myth was losing its strength. Suddenly, with the afterlife in question, people were struggling to make sense of the pain and suffering of life. Where is the reward that makes it all worthwhile?

So people began to fill this gap with the cheap thrills of modern society.

Deprived of the meaningful narrative provided by religion, many people felt an inner emptiness. And so, in an attempt to fill this void, more people turned to stimulants, like drugs, partying or overwork. These methods can provide distraction from the bigger existential questions kicking around in the back of your mind.

But what this constant stimulation is really doing is desensitizing you.

It can also lead to addictive behavior. Using alcohol to fill the void can quickly take you from beer to hard liquor as your tolerance levels rise. And this desire to increase intake mirrors what is happening in today’s society. We are chasing down more and more stimulation to make up for a lack of meaning in our lives.

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