An Animated Introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Philosophical Recipe for Getting Over the Sources of Regret, Disappointment and Suffering in Our Lives

The idea of accep­tance has found much, well… accep­tance in our ther­a­peu­tic cul­ture, by way of Elis­a­beth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief, 12-step pro­grams, the wave of sec­u­lar mind­ful­ness prac­tices, the body-accep­tance move­ment, etc. All of these inter­ven­tions into depressed, bereaved, guilt-rid­den, and/or anx­ious states of mind have their own aims and meth­ods, which some­times over­lap, some­times do not. But what they all share, per­haps, for all the strug­gle involved, is a gen­er­al sense of opti­mism about accep­tance.

One can­not say this defin­i­tive­ly about the Sto­ic idea of amor fati—the instruc­tion to “love one’s fate”—though you might be per­suad­ed to think oth­er­wise if you google the term and come up with a cou­ple dozen pop­u­lar­iza­tions. Yes, there’s love in the name, but the fate we’re asked to embrace may just as well be painful and debil­i­tat­ing as plea­sur­able and uplift­ing. We can­not change what has hap­pened to us, or much con­trol what’s going to hap­pen, so we might as well just get used to it, so to speak.

If this isn’t exact­ly opti­mism in the sense of “it gets bet­ter,” it isn’t entire­ly pes­simism either. But it can become a grim and joy­less fatal­is­tic exer­cise. Yet, as Friedrich Niet­zsche used the term—and he used it with much rel­ish—amor fati means not only accept­ing loss, suf­fer­ing, mis­takes, addic­tions, appear­ances, or men­tal and emo­tion­al tur­bu­lence; it means accept­ing all of itevery­thing and every­one that caus­es both pain and plea­sure, as Alain de Bot­ton says above, “with strength and an all-embrac­ing atti­tude that bor­ders on a kind of enthu­si­as­tic affec­tion.”

“I do not want to wage war against what is ugly,” he wrote in The Gay Sci­ence, “I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse.” Read­ers of Niet­zsche may find them­selves pick­ing up any one of his books, includ­ing The Gay Sci­ence, to see him doing all of the above, con­stant­ly, on any ran­dom page. But his is nev­er a sys­tem­at­ic phi­los­o­phy, but an expres­sion of pas­sion and atti­tude, incon­sis­tent in its parts but, as a whole, sur­pris­ing­ly holis­tic. “My for­mu­la for great­ness in a human being,” he writes in Ecce Homo, “is amor fati

That one wants noth­ing to be dif­fer­ent, not for­ward, not back­ward, not in all eter­ni­ty. Not mere­ly bear what is nec­es­sary, still less con­ceal it… but love it.

Although the con­cept may remind us of Sto­ic phi­los­o­phy, and is very often dis­cussed in those terms, Niet­zsche saw such thought—as he under­stood it—as gloomy, ascetic, and life-deny­ing. His use of amor fati goes beyond mere res­ig­na­tion to some­thing more rad­i­cal, and very dif­fi­cult for the human mind to stom­ach, to use a some­what Niet­zschean fig­ure of speech. “It encom­pass­es the whole of world his­to­ry (includ­ing the most hor­rif­ic episodes),” notes a Lei­den Uni­ver­si­ty sum­ma­ry, “and Nietzsche’s own role in this his­to­ry.” Above all, he desired, he wrote, to be a “Yes-say­er.”

Is amor fati a rem­e­dy for regret, dis­sat­is­fac­tion, the end­less­ly rest­less desire for social and self-improve­ment? Can it ban­ish our agony over history’s night­mares and our per­son­al records of fail­ure? De Bot­ton thinks so, but one nev­er real­ly knows with Nietzsche—his often satir­i­cal exag­ger­a­tions can turn them­selves inside out, becom­ing exact­ly the oppo­site of what we expect. Yet above all, what he always turns away from are absolute ideals; we should nev­er take his amor fati as some kind of divine com­mand­ment. It works in dialec­ti­cal rela­tion to his more vig­or­ous crit­i­cal spir­it, and should be applied with a sit­u­a­tion­al and prag­mat­ic eye. In this sense, amor fati can be seen as instrumental—a tool to bring us out of the paral­y­sis of despair and con­dem­na­tion and into an active realm, guid­ed by a rad­i­cal­ly lov­ing embrace of it all.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Phi­los­o­phy of “Opti­mistic Nihilism,” Or How to Find Pur­pose in a Mean­ing­less Uni­verse

Niet­zsche Lays Out His Phi­los­o­phy of Edu­ca­tion and a Still-Time­ly Cri­tique of the Mod­ern Uni­ver­si­ty (1872)

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Sto­icism, the Ancient Greek Phi­los­o­phy That Lets You Lead a Hap­py, Ful­fill­ing Life

The Dig­i­tal Niet­zsche: Down­load Nietzsche’s Major Works as Free eBooks

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Priyanka Gupta says:

    Niet­zsche was indeed a great philoso­pher. Thank you for this bril­liant arti­cle. Under­stand­ing Niet­zsche is always dif­fi­cult but your arti­cle made his phi­los­o­phy a lit­tle sim­pler.

    I was think­ing about hap­pi­ness and ambi­tions the oth­er day and it got me think­ing and I end­ed up writ­ing an arti­cle on how to choose between ambi­tions and suc­cess and if we could turn at Niet­zsche to help us out. Turns out, we can.

    As per his phi­los­o­phy, the pur­pose of life is not to be hap­py all the time but it is to become who you are.

    Please feel free to leave your opin­ion as com­ments :)

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