An average person is more likely to kill himself than be killed by terrorism, illness or accidents.
Life is pain, said the Buddha. Why to live then? That would be the most fundamental question if we accept the Buddha’s enlightened truth. Philosophers like Albert Camus wrote treatises on why we should live in spite of the pain, absurdity, or sheer ridiculousness. The treatises are individual responses to the question about the meaning of life.
Each individual has to discover his/her own answer to the question, I think, unless one is satisfied with the readymade answers given by religions or such systems. If suicide is the largest cause of death in the world, one implication is that there are too many individuals who are not able to find religious or similar readymade answers meaningful.
One of the basic biological facts is that life tends to sustain itself in spite of all odds. Plants and animals will keep struggling against heat and dust and all sorts of oppressive conditions in order to live. Yes, to live. Life is pain, the Buddha was right. Life is a struggle, a constant fight against oppressive forces.
The struggle is the meaning of life. The struggle is the essence, Albert Camus showed us through his brilliant essay against suicide, The Myth of Sisyphus. Life is the rock that Sisyphus carried uphill with an indefatigable spirit which rebelled against the god who gave him that life.
Rebellion was Sisyphus’ meaning of life which Camus accepted. Control of desires which cause the pains of life was the Buddha’s answer. Experimenting with truth was Mohandas Gandhi’s way. Different people discover their own causes to live for and meanings to sustain themselves against suicidal tendencies. “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how,” as Nietzsche put it famously.
The why is an individual choice which may be as commonplace as bringing up children and seeing them becoming successes in life or as esoteric as discovering formulas like E = mc2.
How do you know that you are somewhere on the right track? Psychologist Erik Erikson has an interesting set of criteria for the different age groups to check the rightness of our progress. An adolescent who knows what he wants to become and works towards that goal is on the right track, Erikson said. The failure struggles with identity crisis. The adult who has understood the meaning of love and is able to establish comfortable relationships with people who matter to him/her will not be buffeted by suicidal thoughts. The failure in this age group (20 to 40) will experience isolation, loneliness and possibly depression. Those in the next group of 40 to 65 years become very caring if they are on the right track. The failure experiences stagnation, a feeling that he/she didn’t achieve anything much in life. Beyond 65, the successful person is a wise person in Erikson’s view. Wisdom enables a person to look back on life with a sense of satisfaction. Otherwise life is accompanied with feelings of guilt about past or a sense of despair.
That’s just a kind of checklist and nothing more. Ultimately, we discover own meanings and purposes for life. It is important to discover them. The rising suicide rates indicate that much at least.