Soren Kierkegaard, philosopher and author was an existentialist. He believed that the main purpose of philosophy is to increase happiness through analyzing and understanding ourselves.
The unexamined life is not worth living.
Much of his work deals with the concept of despair. The lowest level of which he believed was to have the wrong idea of who we actually are. Who our “Self” actual is. Being ignorant of who we actually are allows us to envision ourselves as what we want to be. We imagine being successful, wealthy, in great physical shape and loved by many. Ignorance of who we are is confused with bliss because it feels good at the time to imagine these things.
On the other hand self-actualization is at first painful and leads to real despair when we realize we aren’t who we wish to be. For example when something goes wrong like when someone scores poorly on their test to be admitted into law school to become a lawyer. This person may at first despair for something being lost, an opportunity. If we really look at the situation this person is not really despairing over failing the exam but of him/herself. The self that has failed the test is not who this person would like to be. This person wanted to be a lawyer but is now stuck with a failed self. This is despair.
Abandoning the real self
Some people manage to go the other way and obtain what they desire before understanding who their actual self is. For example someone who desires to be wealthy accepts a job where they will earn enough money to be considered wealthy. They effectively abandon their old self before they understand the true self or poses it.
When one does not posses himself; he is not himself.
Kierkegaard did offer a solution to this problem of despair. We can find true happiness by finding the courage to be our true self, and not wanting to be someone else. To be that self which one truly is, is indeed the opposite of despair.
When we stop trying denying who we are and accept our true self, despair will disappear. Kierkegaard and others believe that trying to uncover and accept our true self is our true essence and purpose in life.
The Art Of Adaptation: Everything we need to be happy is always within our reach.