The terms existing and living, as they apply to human beings, share some basic similarities; however, closer investigation philosophically reveals a very sharp contrast between the two. The American Heritage Dictionary, 6th ed., defines the word existing as "(1)to have actual being; to be real"; "(5) to be present under certain circumstances or in a specified place," and "to occur." Living, on the other hand, means "(5) to conduct one's life in a particular manner"; "(6) to pursue a positive, satisfying existence; to enjoy life." Men and women must be able to do certain things to exist as well as to live, but because they are endowed with the ability to reason, their individual choices ultimately determine whether they are truly living or merely existing.
To exist, a person depends physically on air, food, and protection from the elements (shelter and clothing). To live, a person must breathe, eat regularly, and sleep periodically in some sort of dwelling where he or she is not exposed to severe weather (wind, rain, and cold). These are basic to both existing and living.
A human being must, therefore, have the means both to exist and to live. If Joe Schmoe is said to exist, there must be some record of him in society such as a birth certificate, immigration papers, a social security number, and so forth. Most adults work in order to make the money necessary to pay the inevitable bills and buy the necessary food, shelter and clothing to survive. This "schedule for survival" is also paramount to anyone's being considered living in this world, but it is colored by people's choices. People must work or have some sort of income and pay taxes. As a part of society, however, they may choose not to pay those taxes (thus adversely affecting the quality of their existence by creating trouble for themselves with the IRS). Individuals must be able to buy the food and pay for the housing for themselves and their dependents, but they may choose what kind of food to buy or decide where they wish to live. Further, an individual who votes in an election, for example, may exist merely as a statistic while a man or woman really living will take an active part in the election by taking a stand for or against certain issues on the ballot.
People who are really living, not simply existing, exhibit a deliberate drive toward the pursuit of some meaning behind their existence. They have decided on, or may be in the process of searching for, some reason to continue to exist. There is conscious thought and the involvement of the will in living. Probably the best way to illustrate this idea is by an example. As my friend, Robert Reese, put it:
If I were merely existing, I would get up every morning, go to work, come home, eat, maybe watch some television, go to sleep, then get up the next morning and do it all over again. As it is, I live my life. I have routines, but I don't just exist. I get up every morning, have coffee, maybe run a few miles or work out at the gym, take the time to water my tomato plants, eat some breakfast, go to work, come home, have dinner with my wife, plan our free time together, and so on-I take time out to enjoy life. I have goals. I just got my pilot's license and I love to fly. I try to do as many of the things I love doing as I can. Being able to experience the highs as well as the lows of my existence is what gives meaning to my life.
As existentialist philosophers such as Jean Paul Sartre have written, Robert has displayed an aspiration to transcend his existence. Furthermore, Robert has had to apply his volition to reach the standard of living he is used to now. Every individual action, from choosing to work hard in school to working hard in his chosen profession, is in accord with his will to continue to achieve "greater heights." Robert has values; he believes in hard work, for example, so he may afford the means to get off the ground-literally. He is a thinking, feeling and growing human being with a spirit.
Finally, one might consider the following: it is necessary for a person to exist in order to live; in other words, existing is a part of living. However, it does not necessarily follow that existing is all there is to living. Living is one step beyond existing; those who are truly alive have used their reason to shape and direct their existence.