If someone is depressed you can say, "We knew about his depression." How about the feeling of meaninglessness? I think you can't say, "We knew about his meaninglessness" (since it's not a state or condition).

  • 4
    That is usually covered under depression.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 13:07
  • 1
    If you say 'his meaninglessness' that means that he is meaningless.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 13:07
  • 1
    mmm, How about "he was going through an existential doubt". That sounds very philosophical, doesn't it?
    – PbxMan
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 13:14
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    @Little Eva Oh, I'm okay. This is for a novel I'm writing, ha. Thanks for the concern.
    – wyc
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 15:37
  • 1
    Perhaps better answers can be given if you specify what you mean by meaningless exactly. Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 17:06

19 Answers 19


Do you have angst, ennui, or weltschmerz?

I'd guess ennui. From the OED:

A feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement


he succumbed to ennui and despair

  • 6
    +1 for angst, but I'd consider adding existential to it. I think the modifier really captures the meaninglessness of one's life as the cause, vs. general anxiety.
    – Jaydles
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 18:19
  • 3
    Ennui is Dictionary.com's today's word of the day!
    – RexYuan
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 17:29
  • +1 I was gonna come in and answer ennui, you beat me to it
    – Dallium
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 12:09

Perhaps anomie is the word you are looking for:-

  1. Alienation and purposelessness experienced by a person or a class as a result of a lack of standards, values, or ideals [American Heritage Dictionary via the Free Dictionary]
  • Yes, I think that's the word.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 19:12
  • I prefer this to ennui because it captures the sense of meaninglessness.
    – user1359
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 17:39

A dusty old word for what you describe would be, "acedia."

acedia noun: spiritual torpor and apathy; ennui.

The Free Dictionary

Acedia (also accidie or accedie, from Latin acedĭa, and this from Greek ἀκηδία, "negligence") describes a state of listlessness or torpor, of not caring or not being concerned with one's position or condition in the world. It can lead to a state of being unable to perform one's duties in life. Its spiritual overtones make it related to but arguably distinct from depression. Acedia was originally noted as a problem among monks and other ascetics who maintained a solitary life. St Martha is the spiritual conqueror against acedia.


Or ... if that one's too obscure, then perhaps ... "apathy" & "apathetic" would be more contemporary and suitable terms?

apathy noun: lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. "the widespread apathy among students"

synonyms: indifference, lack of interest, lack of enthusiasm, lack of concern, unconcern, uninterestedness, unresponsiveness, impassivity, dispassion, lethargy, languor, ennui; rare acedia


“meh ... oh but my life sucks.”---Will Weltschmerz

  • 2
    acedia's a good find
    – Avon
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 14:49

The answer is nihilism

The rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless. (Oxford)

From Wikipedia:

Nihilism (/ˈnaɪ.ɨlɪzəm/ or /ˈniː.ɨlɪzəm/; from the Latin nihil, nothing) is a philosophical doctrine that suggests the negation of one or more reputedly meaningful aspects of life. The Greek philosopher and Sophist, Gorgias (ca. 485 BCE–380 BCE), is perhaps the first to consider the Nihilistic belief. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism can also take epistemological or ontological/metaphysical forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or that reality does not actually exist.

  • 3
    I think the question is more on feeling personally meaningless rather than thinking that the world/life is meaningless.
    – user66974
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 14:08
  • @Josh61: I think you're right. The post isn't exactly clear on that. But the comments, which I was too rushed to read before posting, seem to suggest that. A couple people suggsted nihilism in the comments too. Didn't see that.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 14:11
  • 1
    The "bene-diction", +1 Tushar. Have ya seen this: The Big Lebowski - Nihilists
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 15:13
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    @LittleEva: <Chuckle> I'd forgotten about that. Nice link.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 15:23

You might say that person is having an existential crisis:

An existential crisis is a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether their life has any meaning, purpose, or value.


I think "despair" covers it. Despair: loss of hope; hopelessness.

It connotes both a sense of meaninglessness, and the accompanying emotional quality of this feeling.

  • 1
    I'd find this word appropriate
    – PCARR
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 19:13

I think world-weary fits perfectly:

no longer excited, interested, or enthusiastic about anything in life


World-weariness is the state/condition.



I've been in a desperately depressive state and the one that describes my overall attitude is 'hopeless'.

  • I'm not sure why you were downvoted.
    – dwjohnston
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 2:28
  • What is 'downvoted'? Is it those arrows to the left of the comment? I hope my comment was not offensive. Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 17:09

How about lethargy?

I admit, it's not the feeling of 'uselessness' itself, but it might the consequence...? It's a bit dependend on the context whether it would be right to use.

It's a medical condition, but it's used colloquially to describe this 'state of meaninglessness': See: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/lethargy or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lethargy

  • 1
    With your caveat, this suggestion is spot-on. Please edit your answer to include the definition of lethargy from your favorite dictionary (make sure to mention which dictionary you used, and include a hyperlink if possible).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 10:12

Malaise is associated with existentialism and dread. Malaise is defined by Dictionary.com as a noun:

  1. a condition of general bodily weakness or discomfort, often marking the onset of a disease. 2.a vague or unfocused feeling of mental uneasiness, lethargy, or discomfort.
  • 1
    A direct quote of a dictionary would greatly help this question. Help us out by not having to google it ourselves.
    – dwjohnston
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 2:27

"Living in an existential vacuum" is the phrase coined by psychiatrist Victor Frankl to describe such feelings. He also used the term "noogenic neurosis."



lacking importance or significance.

"We knew about his feeling of inconsequentiality."


(of a person) feeling despondent.


a sad and depressed state; low spirits.

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Angst: a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.


I would suggest the word UNFRUITFUL for the "STATE" of feeling that one's life is meaningless, and UNFULFILLED for the "CONDITION" describing the FEELING of one's life being meaningless.

UNFRUITFUL: not yielding good crops; infertile: --I am unfruitful therefore my life is meaningless.

UNFULFILLED: not happy or satisfied, from not having achieved one’s desires or full potential:
--I feel totally unfulfilled, I feel that my life is meaningless.

Both of these words stem from the state of being lost in life and not having established any bearing in life. Of course feelings are overcome by fact and action. Even a pebble in a river has a purpose. It contributes to the river even though it does not actually know it.

  • 2
    Capital letters look awful. I suggest bold-italics.
    – dwjohnston
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 2:28

There are many good synonyms, and here's another:

listlessness The state of being listless; apathetic indifference; lethargy.

listless (adj) Lacking energy, enthusiasm, or liveliness.




It seems to me, that this statement is two sides of the same coin. If we are writing about some one having depression, we first need to take a closer look at this word to be sure that it is the correct one in the context of the writing.

Overuse of this word in modern lanaguage belies the true nature of a very serious and surreptitious illness.

Only that person and anyone who has experianced genuine Clinical Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) can understand the endless feeling of bottomless, desolation and dispair. Without question, it is the disease itself that insideously takes over the mind convincing the sufferer that their life has no meaning or value to anyone.

True depression is akin to seeing a little block of ice a short distance away in the ocean, when on closer inspection the reality of its true nature is a thing that is frighteningly massive, dark, life threatening and as deep as the mariana trench.

Therefore, by the very nature of the disease, if the person in question is able to describe his feelings as all, the closest accurate words would probably be dispair or despondency.

In no way can these inadequate words convey the experience of the course of such a disease, any more than looking at an ice cube in the ocean reveal its true nature as an iceberg. As a result, mere observation of an individual who appears sad, cannot reveal the true nature of the suffering and danger invading his mind and spirit.

The first half of this sentence appears to imply that the subject is living whereas the part in quotes seems to indicate that the subject is deceased.

If the meaning is the former, I refer to the above. If the ladder, then without further context, it reads as indifferent to the subject.

At best, the sentence structure needs revision without further information.

Winston Churchill often described his own depression as a black dog. It is a commonly used metaphor today.

I reference personal experience.


I think despair is what you want.

The complete loss or absence of hope.


Like some words previously mentioned, it covers the "how". There's an element of introspection.

However's there's also a spiritual dimension that gives this word depths the others don't have.

Despair, ethically regarded, is the voluntary and complete abandonment of all hope of saving one's soul and of having the means required for that end. It is not a passive state of mind: on the contrary it involves a positive act of the will by which a person deliberately gives over any expectation of ever reaching eternal life. There is presupposed an intervention of the intellect in virtue of which one comes to decide definitely that salvation is impossible. This last is motived by the persuasion either that the individual's sins are too great to be forgiven or that it is too hard for human nature to cooperate with the grace of God or that Almighty God is unwilling to aid the weakness or pardon the offenses of his creatures, etc.

[Catechism Dictionary]

Despair the sin is such because it denies salvation outright (and because it presumes the nature of God). It requires an active decision of the intellect, as opposed to "apathy" or "anomie" which are akin to passive acceptance. Salvation gives life meaning. Deciding one's efforts are in vain is one thing; to do so, and then reject the possibility of any meaning is much more powerful.

"Ennui" and "nihilistic" describe modern attitudes to an ancient condition. There's assumed apathy. "Despair" connotes wrestling with a notion you can never recant, imho.

for fun:

here's a spiritual definition for hope


The best ones so far:

  • Ennui (emphasis on boredom and lack of purpose)
  • Nihilism (emphasis on the lack of meaning, often used outside of the philosophical sense of rejection of principles on that basis)
  • Malaise (discomfort from an unknown source, usually general dissatisfaction with life)
  • Acedia (emphasis on apathy. Will probably be lost on most people.)

I'd stay away from:

  • Weltschmerz (world-weariness; despair at the unfairness of life; knowledge that worldly things will never satisfy the mind)
  • Despair (mostly about the lack of hope)
  • Anomie (doesn't imply dissatisfaction or meaninglessness. It's more of a lack of ethics or standards)
  • Angst (anxiety or dread)
  • 2
    A summary of other answers... I guess it's kind of noble, but I don't think counts as an answer.
    – dwjohnston
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 2:28

How about "futile" or "futility"?

  • 7
    Not a bad suggestion, but as an answer, it needs more substance: please look up futile/futility in your favorite dictionary and quote the appropriate definition here (make sure to mention which dictionary you used). You may also wish to make a statement about why you believe this is an appropriate word (i.e. argue your case a bit).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 10:11

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