“To those human beings who are of any concern to me, I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill treatment, indignities, profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, and the wretchedness of the vanquished.” Thus wrote forbiddingly mustachioed German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, articulating his counterintuitive view of suffering as something desirable. But surely the Nietzschean way could never lead to an enjoyable life? On the contrary, explains the television series Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness. “Friedrich Nietzsche believed that all varieties of suffering and failure were to be welcomed by anyone seeking happiness. We should regard them as tough challenges to be overcome in the same way as a climber might tackle a mountain.” Thus speaks the show’s host, popularizer of philosophers from Socrates to Seneca, Epicurus to Schopenhauer, Alain de Botton.
Nietzsche perhaps put more compellingly than any writer before or since the notion of “no pain, no gain.” De Botton, a philosophy enthusiast eager to look for theory in practice, visits a dedicated, sacrifice-making dancer from the English National Ballet, the combination of whose acquired physical grace and painful history of toenail bruises make the argument in a visceral way.
He then chats with a drinks distributor fresh off the failure of his first business venture and already working hard on his second. According to our host, Nietzsche “didn’t think that having failed was, in itself, enough. All lives have failures in them. What makes some lives fulfilled as well is the manner in which failure has been met.” Or, in the simpler words of the distributor himself, “How would you be able to judge your success if you haven’t failed?”
Although this broadcast works as an introduction, we don’t recommend you limit your learning about a philosopher with a voluminous body of written work to videos alone. In our collection of free eBooks, you can download eight of Nietzsche’s volumes in a variety of formats: Beyond Good and Evil, Ecce Homo, Homer and Classical Philology, Human, All Too Human, The Anti Christ, The Case Against Wagner, The Gay Science, and Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.