Kierkegaard experienced much suffering in his relatively short life. By the age of 25 he had lost both his parents, and five of his six siblings. In addition to this, his sensitive temperament, his tendencies to melancholy and anxiety, and his difficult relationships to his father and his one-time fiancée Regine gave him an intimate understanding of various kinds of psychological pain. Rather than avoiding or denying suffering, Kierkegaard was unusually willing to confront it and investigate it. His sensitivity to suffering extended to others: one of his friends remembered that “he gave consolation not by covering up sorrow, but by first making one genuinely aware of it, by bringing it to complete clarity”.
This approach characterises Kierkegaard’s philosophical work as well as his personal life. In his 1844 book The Concept of Anxiety, he writes that “Every human being must learn to be anxious in order that he might not perish either by never having been in anxiety or by succumbing in anxiety. Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.” He expresses a similar attitude to despair in his later work The Sickness Unto Death. So, what is the “right way” to suffer, and how can this be learned? [Read More]