what-is-authenticity (1)

Today, authenticity is such a buzzword.

We are told that the road to happiness is found by being authentic.  

But what does that really mean?

Is there even such a thing as an authentic life?


To find out what authenticity really means and how it can help in our lives we should look at two twentieth century philosophers who were deeply concerned with it: Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre.

If you want to act authentically,

then you have to detach yourself from the cultural norms.

Martin Heidegger

For both these philosophers authenticity did not mean acting in a way that was your real self. For Martin Heidegger, authenticity meant not getting all wrapped up in the everyday goings-on of the world. He thought that most people get caught up in the conformist culture and play roles in society that are already prefabricated. He believed that most people were caught up in the “dictatorship of the they”. He believed that being caught up in the “everyday” distracts you from the true nature of reality.  If you want to act authentically, they you have to detach yourself from the cultural norms.

we can become aware of what is limiting our freedom so that we make “authentic” choices

Jean-Paul Sartre

Similarly, for Jean-Paul Sartre who claimed, “existence precedes essence,” authenticity meant being fully aware of and acting on your total freedom. He thought that if you let others or society govern how you live, then you were acting in “bad faith” or being inauthentic. Neither of these philosophers believed that there was a true essential self to be discovered, but they did believe that we can become aware of what is limiting our freedom so that we make “authentic” choices.


So the first step in living authentically is to figure out what societal forces are working on you.

You may feel pressured to have a baby, get married, or even collect as many friends as possible.  

The question is: are you doing something for yourself, or following what everyone else is doing?

If I feel negative about some part of my life, I have found that it is often because I was not living up to some cultural ideal that I was unconsciously buying into.

I use to feel negative about myself because I was more introverted.

I felt that I was lesser than others, like there was something wrong with me, and that I was not very likable.

But then I discovered that I was conditioned to feel this way because I was buying into the cultural ideal of extroversion.

So in order to live authentically you need to deconstruct cultural forces.


If you want to deconstruct the societal ideals and norms that are affecting you, you can ask yourself these questions.

In what ways is my life not ideal?

What would solve this, or get rid of this feeling of not being ideal?

You have hit on a societal norm or ideal that is affecting your life.  Now you can examine it and see if it is still something you want to buy into, or something you want to let go of—you don’t have to buy into them; it’s a choice!


Once you have identified the cultural forces that are affecting your life, the next thing is to realize that you are completely free and responsible for choosing or not choosing to take part in those cultural norms. Quite often we buy into cultural norms because we have been conditioned to think that these are the most tried and true methods to live a happy life. But if you choose something just because everyone else does it, that is inauthentic. How many people have followed the money and ended up completely miserable, or how many have just mindlessly had children and ended up regretting it? Choose the ones that will make you happy!


Finally, living authentically means living in full acceptance of the reality of existence. Most of us never really consider the larger scale of life.

The fact that we are tiny little beings hurling through space on a rock going who knows where and who knows why?

Our cultures give us lots of things to do to forget about this scary thought, but keeping this in mind makes us realize that all the cultural norms and ideals are completely arbitrary and we have the freedom and the responsibility to create the lives we want.