Psychiatrist Irvin Yalom is one of my favourite authors. He has written extensively about the art of therapy and has touched the lives of countless individuals seeking insight into human nature and personal growth.

In his seminal book, Existential Psychotherapy (1980), Yalom, introduced the concept of the “four givens of existence.” These givens are fundamental truths about human life that can serve as a compass for navigating the complexities of our existence. Understanding and embracing these givens can help us live richer and more fulfilling lives.

Death: The first given is our mortality. We are all going to die someday. While this may seem morbid, acknowledging our mortality can be liberating. It reminds us to make the most of our time, pursue our passions, and cherish our relationships.

Freedom: Yalom’s second given is freedom and the responsibility that comes with it. We have the freedom to make choices and shape our destinies. Accepting this responsibility empowers us to take control of our lives and make choices aligned with our values.

Isolation: Human existence can be inherently lonely. Despite our connections, we ultimately face our experiences and emotions alone. Recognizing this isolation can lead us to seek meaningful connections and nurture our relationships, fostering a sense of belonging and support.

Meaninglessness: Finally, Yalom emphasizes the potential for meaninglessness in life. Life may not come with inherent meaning, but we have the capacity to create it. By finding purpose, setting goals, and seeking personal growth, we can infuse our existence with profound meaning.

These four givens offer us a roadmap for living a rich life. By embracing our mortality, exercising our freedom responsibly, fostering meaningful connections, and actively seeking purpose, we can navigate life’s challenges and find fulfillment in the journey. Yalom’s wisdom reminds us that life’s richness is not just about accumulating material wealth but about embracing the essence of our humanity.


About the Author, Brent Holgate

Brent is a psychologist at In Positive Health and he has a strong passion for enhancing the life of his clients. He adopts an empathic, open-minded, honest, and client-centred attitude as a therapist.

Our speech pathology and psychology clinic is located in Braddon, ACT, in Canberra’s CBD. Call us on 5117 4890 or email to get in touch.

In Positive Health, Canberra. Nel MacBean Speech Pathologist Canberra. Campbell MacBean Psychologist Canberra. Sally Arthur Psychologist Canberra. Brent Holgate Psychologist Canberra.