There are situations when characters are in a dangerous situation and steps must be taken to survive, whether it is keeping safe from natural dangers, or escaping from the consequences of the follies of their civilization.
However, this can be taken too far when the result is the characters constantly living in fear or complacency without end, such as hiding from the world even when the situation has changed or there are responsibilities to recognize.
This Aesop comes when at least one character begins to realize that all their community's focus on survival is producing a life that means nothing beyond giving into their fears or sloth. Instead, the characters realize that they have to have more in their lives, something to live or work for. This puts them in conflict with the others who refuse to change and demand the dissenters fall back in line and re-enter their shell. This will climax with the heroes saying something like "No, I'm tired of surviving where the only thing waiting for us is death, I want something to live for!"
In the end, the heroes manage to convince the whole community to leave their stifling fear and enter the world with all its risks and work for something constructive and meaningful. As a result, everyone finds that they are happier and up to the challenge.
This stems back to how humans are called "homo sapiens" for good reason: every creature on the world, including humans, have the instinct to survive, but only humans (other sapient species in speculative fiction notwithstanding) can think beyond survival - that is, comfort, wealth, expression, and many more.
In the Pyramid of Needs by Abraham Maslow, this trope is fulfilling everything above level 2.
This, in a way, is the opposite of Ambition Is Evil: that is when trying to improve your lot in life is a bad thing, probably leaving you Lonely at the Top. This trope is when having no ambition beyond not dying early is a bad thing.
See also We Have Become Complacent and Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life. Compare Social Darwinists, who make "survival of the fittest" their credo. Contrast Nothing Left to Do but Die. A Motivational Lie may be used to instill this in someone.
- This is the Central Theme of Casshern Sins. During the whole series the titular character is the only immortal being left in a dying world, who struggles to recover his memories and find a purpose. Of course, after finding out he was responsible for the current state of the world via the death of Luna it gets worse, and then he resolves to find Luna again due to rumors of her return. Too bad she's now...different since now she is only giving life without any purpose other than to create a deathless world, since now she finds it disgusting. Casshern calls her out on this and eventually leaves her and her society to live their immortal lives with the express threat that if they ever devolve into Immortality Immorality he will come back and Kill Them All:
Casshern: Even though there is life, no one here is living it. Life is overflowing and they are merely drinking their fill. But Dio and all the people I've met on my journey aren't like that... they're.. they're more... they were blazing with fire. They were torches burning with life[...]If you've forgotten death... then you've forgotten what it truly means to be alive.
- Near the end of Yu Yu Hakusho, Yusuke Urameshi gets conflicted when he finds out that he has demon blood within him, making him wonder if it's worth living and to just live being a demon. Through the support of his friends and mentors, especially with his childhood friend Keiko, Yusuke decided that it's worth living since he had been able to protect the world from demonic invasions and help prevent the netherworld from having a civil war due to the loss of Raizen. Yusuke, in the end, decided to use his heritage to help skeptical demons and humans understand one another.
- Attack on Titan has this trope in the form of Eren and Armin, who believe that living safe within the walls is merely surviving, and that truly living can only be possible when mankind is free.
- In School-Live!, Miki realized that she was just focused on surviving when she and her friend Kei locked themselves in a zombie-infested mall. Once she started interacting withe School Life club, she saw that they made the best out of their situation and organize "school activities" to have a little fun.
- In Endride, both Emilio and Mischa experience this. When Emilio, a prince, claims he only lives to kill King Delzaine and will gladly die for it, Demetrio mocks him for his foolishness and tells him to take more responsibility. More kindly, when Demetrio frees Mischa from her Slave Collar, he encourages her to take the opportunity to learn how to live properly and find her own reasons for going on.
- Shiraori of So I'm a Spider, So What? believes that a person's pride is more important than simply surviving. Early in her life she lived only to survive; after the destruction of her first home she realized how empty her life was and resolved to find her own pride. Knowing her actions were destroying Blow's pride, she allowed him to fight a hopeless fight against the Hero to retain what pride remained.
- This is the life philosophy of Akagi Shigeru, the main character of Akagi and side character in the earlier Ten. Akagi is a professional gambler who spends his entire career putting it all on the line and undergoing one gamble after the other, wanting to live each moment to the fullest and die with the throttle on full. One of the central themes of Akagi is how Akagi spends the entire manga looking for another person to match him, until finally finding one in an Absurdly High-Stakes Game with Retired Monster Washizu Iwao. In 10, this leads to him killing himself with a morphine overdose rather than die a slow death from Alzheimer's, which would reduce him to a state of only 'surviving' once his mind was gone.
- DARLING in the FRANXX has the Plantations, which Zero Two disdains as "lifeless" cities. As Squad 13 later discovers, she's not wrong. Most adults in the Plantations live bland and stagnant lives, getting their physical needs provided for but their emotional needs basically nonexistent - their lives are void of any names, emotions, passions, companionship, socializing, or even simple pleasures like eating or dreaming.
- Ultimately, the entire story turns out to revolve around this trope. VIRM, the Scary Dogmatic Aliens responsible for manipulating humanity into the above situation, are a Hive Mind of Energy Beings who seek to assimilate all sentient life into their collective, free of conflict, pain, emotions or personal identity. Squad Thirteen, who have come to realize just how beautiful it is to live, object. Violently.
- The Wicked + The Divine: Inanna's personal philosophy is a variation on this. As he and the others of the pantheon have only two years at the most to live after their emergence as gods, he's decided that rather than regret the life he won't have or fear dying, he'll take the opportunity to embrace the confidence godhood has granted him and live the remainder of his life to the fullest. He chides Baphomet for trying to kill him to steal his remaining years of life by pointing out that living for a little bit longer won't mean anything if he spends his borrowed time terrified and desperate.
- Evangelion 303: A while after meeting Shinji, Asuka finds out that he thinks his life is empty and he's satisfied with merely existing. Quickly she tells him that mindset is stupid, and the minute you stop trying to live -as opposite to survive- you're no longer human.
- In the Tokyo Babylon fanfic, Nukume Dori Consequences, it's a recurring theme. Surviving means going through life avoiding dangerous things that can actually improve life, out of fear of being hurt in the process. Subaru is kept safe from the Sakurazukamori by his grandmother, but he's completely isolated and detached from the world and has become a mere shadow that just exist. Seishirou on the other hand was so terrified of the idea of falling in love to then being killed that he stubbornly denied his feelings for a long time, and was only able to turn around thanks to the memories of a past life where he admitted to himself he loved Subaru at the last moment before the end of the world, when he had nothing left to lose.
- Discussed in World of the Dead. As Saya points out, they need a long-term goal rather than just wander aimlessly, or the group will eventually implode and fall apart.
- The Croods has Eep confront her father Grug and his obsession with merely surviving in fear, "That wasn't living! That was just.... not dying! There's a difference."
- WALLE. Captain McCrea sums up the fight against AUTO, the ship's computer who has been effectively keeping the humans prisoner aboard the Axiom, because an old and obsolete directive bids him to stay in space where survival is easier, with "I don't want to survive, I want to live!" As it turns out, the humans, and even the robots on board, are thoroughly sick of the pampered yet utterly meaningless existence they live.
- The Lion King 1½: The film's entire first act is Timon leaving the meerkat colony because "All we do is dig so we can hide, and hide so we can dig!"
- Jesus of Montreal. When the lead character is confronted by a priest who wants to kill their iconoclastic play to be on the safe side, he responds, "There is more to life than waiting for death!"
- Braveheart. When asked why he risks death to fight for Scottish independence, William Wallace answers "Every man dies. Not every man really lives."
- Interstellar: Humanity, while still alive and with at least some luxuries left (baseball games, for example) is so focused on keeping what little has left in the Crapsack World that Earth has become after years of climate change and war that only the protagonists actually recognize this trope.
- One of Solomon Northrup's most memorable lines in the film version of 12 Years a Slave:
"Days ago I was with my family, in my home. Now you tell me all is lost. "Tell no one who I really am" if I want to survive. I don't want to survive, I want to live."
- One of the selling points of 20 Years After which was directly stated in the trailer "There is a difference, between surviving and living.".
- A recurrent point in Slow West. "There is more to life than survival. Jay Cavendish taught me that. I owe him my life. Ho for the west."
- Discussed by Dresden and Ortega in Death Masks:
I thought you guys drank blood," I said."It's all we really need," Ortega said."Then why do you have anything else?"Ortega held up the bottle. "Life is more than mere survival. All you need is the water, after all. Why drink beer?"
- Later that conversation...
"The offer to make me into a blood-drinking monster in eternal slavery to you? Why would I want to do that?""It is the only way to keep your life," Ortega said.I felt the anger coalescing into rage. My upper lip curled away from my teeth, baring them in a snarl. "I thought life is more than mere survival."Ortega's expression changed. It was only for a second, but in that moment I saw furious rage, arrogant pride, and violent bloodlust on his face. He regained his calm quickly, but traces of the hidden emotions thickened his accent."So be it. I will kill you, wizard."
- In the Philip K. Dick short story "The Day Mr. Computer Fell Out of Its Tree", Joe Contemptible is driven to despair by his unfulfilling life:
"I'm not married. I've got no wife. Nothing. Just my damn job at the record store. All those damn German songs and those bubblegum rock lyrics; they go through my head night and day, constantly, mixtures of Goethe and Heine and Neil Diamond. ... So why should I live on? Call that living? It's existence, not living."
- In the Warrior Cats Super Edition Firestar's Quest, Leaf uses this as a reason as to why they should join the new SkyClan.
"Yes, I'll join," Leaf assured him. "If the Clan really works how you say it will, then cats will have a purpose. We'll be more than just rogues, just living to stay alive."
- The second book of The Dark Elf Trilogy starts with Drizzt realizing that after ten years of surviving alone in the Underdark, he is becoming too much of an instinct-driven animal.
- A central theme in The Giver: Jonas comes to realize that the community gave up genuine emotion and humanity for an emotionally sterile, functional utopia.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, living free even against impossible odds or in terrible danger of death is a central tenet of wildling culture; notably, they call themselves "the Free Folk." When Jon Snow argues that Mance Rayder's attack on the Wall is futile and the attackers must certainly die, wildling Ygritte responds that all men must die, "but not all men truly live."
- A major theme in We The Living.
Kira Argounova:: Now look at me! Take a good look! I was born and I knew I was alive and I knew what I wanted. What do you think is alive in me? Why do you think I'm alive? Because I have a stomach and eat and digest the food? Because I breathe and work and produce more food to digest? Or because I know what I want, and that something which knows how to wantisn't that life itself? And whoin this damned universewho can tell me why I should live for anything but for that which I want?She smiled. She knew she was dying. But it did not matter any longer. She had known something which no human words could ever tell and she knew it now. She had been awaiting it and she felt it, as if it had been, as if she had lived it. Life had been, if only because she had known it could be, and she felt it now as a hymn without sound, deep under the little whole that dripped red drops into the snow, deeper than that from which the red drops came. A moment or anble.
- The prophecy about Harry Potter and the Dark Lord in Harry Potter implies this: "Neither can live while the other survives", ie. Harry and Voldemort have a vendetta that can't be resolved without violence, and so long as they're both alive, neither will know peace because the other is dedicated to destroying them. Both can survive, but as long as they do, neither can live.
- The novelization of the Babylon 5 film "Thirdspace" has a conversation about this between an old man and his dying brother's ex-wife.
Alex Rosen: Survival, Sheila? Is that what it's all about? Is that the only thing that matters? Survival is the fundamental instinct of all living things, Sheila. It doesn't take any great thinker, any deep philosopher, just to survive. Cockroaches, they're survivors. Scientists say the cockroaches will outlast us all. Good for them. They'll still be around when we're long-forgotten piles of dust, but you know what? They'll still be cockroaches. You want to be a cockroach, Sheila? Fine.
- Invoked in military science fiction Victoria by protagonist John Rumford, once the revolution is successful and the Confederation free and safe. The heroes have proved their country was worth dying for; now they have to make sure it will also be worth living for in generations to come.
- This trope is discussed in the poem, Dialysis, where the subject's living functions are mostly artificial and, while she isn't dead, she's doesn't really consider herself alive, either, as she's only surviving due the machines in which she's attached to and can't do anything besides lay there and count down how long until the machines stop functioning.
- Ascendance of a Bookworm: Myne's very first option to get treatment for her Devouring entails both being Made a Slave in all but name and getting separated from her family. She refuses it and chooses to spend the time she has left with her family. The main reason she manages to last much longer is that she finds a way to get treatment all while being able to still live in her home during ther period she was treating as borrowed time.
- In The Odd Couple episode "Security Arms", Felix moves into a different apartment after his and Oscar's place is robbed. The apartment complex has been designed for extreme safety, including things like inside locks, two-way mirrors and tons of rules. Eventually even Felix decides the problems with the new apartment outweigh any safety benefits.
- Star Trek: The Original Series: There's a civilization-wide example of this in the episode "A Taste of Armageddon." Kirk destroys a computer that was keeping a planet's people in a stagnant, mollycoddled existence, and argues that this isn't a Prime Directive violation because the people didn't really have their own culture at all, after having become indifferent to their "war."
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Birthright: Part II", Worf has discovered a Romulan prison camp where Klingons and Romulans live together peacefully, but the Klingons' children are not aware about their heritage. Worf starts educating them, making the Romulan leader, Tokath, thinking Worf is threatening their peace.
Worf: I saw what happened to him when he caught the scent of his prey on the wind. For the first time in his life, he felt powerful, and that is what he has been denied living here. And that is what you have tried to take away from him. Now you may be content to sit here in the jungle and wither to old age, but Toq and the others have tasted what it is to feel truly alive, and they will not give that up now.
- Star Trek: Picard:
- Jean-Luc Picard invokes this in "Remembrance" when he realizes that his retirement has been a meaningless existence.
Picard: I haven't been living. I've been waiting to die.
- Zani and Picard discuss Elnor's future (or more precisely, his lack of one) in "Absolute Candor." Living among the Qowat Milat nuns has isolated him from mainstream Romulan society, and although he did receive the full training of their order, men are forbidden from joining. The sisterhood is already stretched thin trying to keep the peace on Vashti, so Zani encourages Picard to ask Elnor to be his qalankhkai.
Picard: And you would send [Elnor] away? He might find himself in serious danger. He might die.
Zani: He will. Before that comes to pass, it would gladden my heart to see him live.
- The galaxy-wide Fantastic Racism against the xBs is so harsh that Elnor wonders aloud to Seven of Nine in "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2" if their bleak existence is worth living.
Elnor: Would the xBs be better off dead? Everyone hates them, they have no home. They don't belong anywhere.
Seven: Am I better off dead? I'm an xB, I have no home, I don't belong anywhere. Why don't I just put a phaser to my head and get it over with?
Elnor: Because... I'd miss you.
- Jean-Luc Picard invokes this in "Remembrance" when he realizes that his retirement has been a meaningless existence.
- In Game of Thrones, a furious Daenerys confronts Mirri Maz Duur with this trope when her healing methods keep Khal Drogo alive, but in a permanent vegetative state. Mirri throws it right back:
Daenerys: I spoke for you. I saved you!Mirri Maz Duur: Saved me? Three of those riders had already raped me before you saved me, girl. I saw my god's house burn, there where I had healed men and women beyond counting. In the streets I saw piles of heads... the head of the baker who makes my bread, the head of a young boy that I had cured of fever just three moons past. So... tell me again exactly what it was that you saved?Daenerys: Your life.Mirri Maz Duur: Why don't you take a look at your Khal? Then you will see what life is worth, when all the rest is gone.
- Monty Python's Lion Tamer sketch features a 45-year old chartered accountant who wants to do "something exciting, something that will let me live!". However, he appears to have confused lions and anteaters, and so backs down when he learns exactly what lion taming entails.
- Barney Miller: In the episode "The Slave" the squad learns that a Burmese diplomat has a slave. They try to convince the slave that he shouldn't be one:
Wojo: What do you get outta bein' bossed around all the time?William: I eat.Wojo: So?William: I know many who don't.Harris: Man, there is more to life than just having something to eat.
- An episode of the Highlander series discussed this. An immortal starts claiming to be Methos, the oldest living immortal, and preaching that all immortals should give up violence and The Game. When the real Methos goes to talk to the pretender, (without revealing who he is) he notes that the pretender is making a huge target out of himself, as a lot of immortals will want to claim the power of a 5,000 year old man. This exchange follows:
Fake Methos: Can anyone live for 5,000 years and say they did nothing? Risked nothing? Merely stayed alive with nothing else to show for it? It'd be pointless.
Real Methos: Some people would say that experience was enough. That it was worth saving.
Fake Methos: I'm not one of them.
- Early in season 1 of Lost Jack is too focused on keeping the survivors alive at safe, leading to tension slowly building up to the point of people constantly snapping at each other in the week immediately following the plane crash. Hurley, being The Heart, realises this and builds a makeshift golf course to allow people to blow the steam off. Jack is initially skeptical, but eventually admits he was wrong.
Jack: We're surviving here Hurley, and that's what my main concern is, keeping us alive.
Hurley: Look, all I'm saying is, if we're stuck here, then just surviving's not going to cut it. We need some kind of relief, you know. We need some way that we can, you know, have fun. That's right, fun. Or else we're just going to go crazy waiting for the next bad thing to happen.
- In season five of The Walking Dead, Abraham Ford is in a discussion with the core Atlanta group, and offers a toast to survivors, but then challenges the group to do more than survive, and join Ford's group on their way to Washington, DC with Eugene, a person who says he can help end the Zombie Apocalypse. Eugene lied.
- A recurring theme on The 100 is how far are you willing to go to keep yourself and your society alive, and at what point is survival no longer worth the constant moral compromises needed to attain it?
Lexa: You think our ways are harsh, but it's how we survive.Clarke: Maybe life should be about more than just survival. Don't we deserve better than that?
- Deconstructed in the episode "The Old Man In The Cave" of The Twilight Zone (1959): once a group of survivors who had made it pretty far After the End because of the titular old man's help in obtaining supplies free of radiation discover that the "old man" is a computer that the Wasteland Elder that is their leader has been using to do radiation tests on the stuff they scavenge, they uprise and destroy the computer even as the old man begs them not to, saying that they are acting out on this trope. And then they decide to gorge on all of the food they can for the sake of celebrating life... and fatally irradiate themselves because they have no idea of what's safe and what's not, leaving the old man the sole survivor.
- Discussed in The Penumbra Podcast:
Alessandra: Dying's easy; you've only got to do it once. You can never stop surviving. You've got to get up and do it all day, every day. That's what's hard.
Juno: Hard doesn't mean the same thing as worthwhile.
- In Mirror's Edge this trope is one of the most important issues in the game. It exposes the opposing viewpoints between Celeste and Faith. The two have a heart-to-heart about their dystopian society. Celeste complains that she is tired of surviving instead of living; runners deliver messages to stick it to the man, but they must dodge bullets and navigate dangerous routes every step of the way. The antithesis of runners are the people living in the city. They ignore or are oblivious to the oppressive society they live in, and are comfortable with their lack of control and privacy.
- One of Cthulhu Saves the World's many pamphlet shelves contains "Zombie Thrival Guide", which will, supposedly (you can't read it, it's only advertised), tell you how to thrive during a Zombie Apocalypse instead of merely surviving it.
- In Persona 4, exploring Yosuke's social link explores his feeling on coming to Junes as well as his feelings for Saki, despite her disdain for him and his family for Junes' presence in Yasoinaba, which was ruining local businesses. Initially, he was pretty upset at having to move to a small town and in the six months before the protagonist arrived, he did not make many friends (really only Chie at most.) As time passes in the story (and through more interactions with Yosuke on his social link), Yosuke has come to enjoy being Inaba, namely because he has found a group of friends and wants to improve and grow as a person. He had gone from resenting being in the small town to becoming actively involved in taking care of the people. This is reflected in that by the end of the game, the townsfolk have gone from resenting the presence of Junes to working alongside them and even expanding the opportunities brought by them.
- Fallout 3: This is one of the things President Eden states as he announces Project Purity. After describing how nearly all water is contaminated and people have to use makeshift purifiers to clean tiny amounts of water at a time...
President Eden: But that's not really living, is it? You're simply existing, America, postponing death for a day or two. Well, I'm gonna tell you, right here, right now, those days are at an end!
- Chrono Trigger sees Ayla deliver a What the Hell, Hero? Patrick Stewart Speech where the point is this trope. Depending on the translation, this trope may be literal.
Elder, yous not alive. Just not dead. (Japanese fan translation by KWhazit)Old man breathe, but dead [on] inside. (Official English translation)note
- Wynn says as much in Dragon Age: Origins. As old as she may be, she'd rather be out fighting the Blight, making as good a use of her limited time as possible. Laying down under some sheets and waiting for death is beneath her.
- In Mass Effect 3, this is essentially the basis of Paragon Shepard's life lessons to EDI, as she tries to learn what it means to be alive.
- In Endless Legend, the leader of the Broken Lords - an empire of knights that was forced to bind their souls to Animated Armor to survive Auriga's collapsing climate - proclaims that 'survival' is not the same as 'life' in their introduction video. The Broken Lords soon found out that in their new bodies, they had to drain energy from living creatures to replenish themselves, an act that was a complete betray of their knightly vows. Part of their faction quest involves finding a way to cure themselves of their affliction.
- Discussed in The Last of Us. Joel remarks to Ellie at one point that you can't just survive in the hope that things will eventually get better; you need a reason to keep fighting and living.
Joel: I struggled for a long time with survivin', and no matter what, you keep finding something to fight for.
- One of the crafter side stories for Shadowbringers in Final Fantasy XIV involve Thiuna, a young woman whose figurative brother, Owell, is constantly putting her down for wasting time and resources on restoring items with sentimental values instead of making things that can help people better their lives and not worry about dying from the cold and starvation. Because the world is under threat from primordial light, Owell is in the mindset of "work to live another day". Thiuna reminds him that people need joy in their lives, something they can look forward to instead of just living to survive.
- All Hail King Julien has the previous King's rule defined by forcing everyone to stay absolutely quiet and hidden all the time. Our King Julien XIII objects to this and makes it his goal to change things as soon as he gets his chance at the crown.
Julien: If there may not be a tomorrow, then we've gotta live extra big today!
- An episode of Gargoyles examined this trope.
Coldstone: You said that destroying my brother is the only way to survive. Is that all there is for us, mere survival?Demona: Isn't that enough?Goliath: No. Gargoyles protect. It is our nature. Our purpose. To lose that is to be corrupt. Empty. Lifeless.
- In the final part of the "Weirdmageddon" finale of Gravity Falls, Mabel, Dipper, Soos and Wendy discovers that Grunkle Stan and a handful of other characters have survived by hiding in the magically shielded Mystery Shack. Grunkle Stan refuses to mount an offense against Bill Cipher, saying that they have a good deal just eking out a marginal existence in the Shack and can turn to cannibalism once their food supplies run out. Dipper and Mabel manage to talk the others into fighting back.
- A quote attributed to Jack London illustrates this (only the first line is confirmed as being his):
I would rather be ashes than dust!I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.The function of man is to live, not to exist.I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.I shall use my time.
"The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.""I'd rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it, than live a thousand years watching my digestion and being afraid of the wet."
- Others include:
- Comes up a lot in the discussion of whether or not to continue life-support for someone who is comatose, and whose prognosis is poor. Many people don't wish to "pull the plug on" a loved one, but there's also the consideration that that person might not ever wake up from their coma, or might be brain-dead, or might wake up but be permanently and severely disabled, such that they might not ever be able to enjoy life, take care of themselves, or live a normal life ever again. Not helping matters is the fact that many people don't think about these things until it's too late, and don't prepare for them or discuss it with their loved ones. Which means family relationships may be torn apart (sometimes irrevocably) when members can't agree on "what [their loved one] would want." (Which may or may not be what they would actually have wanted. And even close family members or spouses aren't necessarily better at making these decisions than strangers would be.)
- It's also one of the major factors in the euthanasia debate; whether or not someone in critical condition—either doomed to die in agony or in an And I Must Scream situation, either way with any hope of a normal life lost—should be allowed a more peaceful, painless death like is done with terminal pets, especially if the patient themselves requests it.