It’s just so hard at times.
We’re bold and ambitious and think we can bend everything straight.
But we can’t. We can’t change reality. The second we realize something it’s already gone. It’s like grabbing at the wind. It’s there one second and you’re quick to reach out for it and baam – it’s gone. Ungrabbable.
And if we think about it, acceptance is really the only option. The opposite is to oppose everything that happens. To fight reality. Fight what is. What a shitty life? A life of opposition, hatred, and unhappiness. Not an option.
We need to learn that things happen as they do – sometimes seemingly good, sometimes seemingly bad. We don’t always get it our way. Unless…
Unless we choose that whatever way it is, is our way. When we choose to amor fati – to love everything that happens, to love our fate – then we will always get it our way.
Because the way it is, is the way it is. Unchangable. And therefore it must be good (even if it sucks).
And if you think now, “This sucks a whale, coz I’ve got no say at my life at all…”
…Then you’re mistaken. Your actions of today shape your tomorrow. And to accept and love whatever happens will help you shape it your way. Dive in.
What Does “Amor Fati” Mean? A Definition & Explanation
What the heck is the meaning of amor fati?
Let’s find out the answer to this question. Further, you’ll learn a helpful Stoic metaphor to understand the idea better. And you’ll learn what amor fati does not mean. Dig in.
From Nietzsche back to Stoicism
“My formula for what is great in mankind is amor fati: not to wish for anything other than that which is; whether behind, ahead, or for all eternity. Not just to put up with the inevitable – much less to hide it from oneself, for all idealism is lying to oneself in the face of the necessary – but to love it.” –Nietzsche
The term amor fati goes back to 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. (Interesting fact: It was Nietzsche who wrote the famous maxim: “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”)
The meaning of amor fati is the love of fate, the loving acceptance of your fate, or simply, to love everything that happens.
Loving everything that happens includes not wishing for anything other than what is. This was basically Nietzsche’s formula for a happy life: Do not wish for reality to be any different, rather accept and even love whatever happens.
Nearly two millennia earlier, Epictetus, one of the Stoic leaders, had a similar formula for a smoothly flowing life:
“Seek not for events to happen as you wish but rather wish for events to happen as they do and your life will go smoothly.”
This is powerful.
Stoicism calls it the “art of acquiescence” – to accept rather than fight every little thing. Stoic acceptance. And it can very well be compared to Nietzsche’s amor fati.
Another Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, “speaks of a need to ‘find satisfaction’ in the external events that befall us, that we should ‘greet them joyfully’, ‘accept them with pleasure’, ‘love’ them and ‘will’ them to happen as determined by our fate.” (Donald Robertson, Stoicism and the Art of Happiness)
The Stoics tried to cultivate acceptance to whatever happened to them. ‘If this is the will of Nature then so be it.’ Most events happen without you having a say in the matter. You can either enjoy and love whatever happens, or you get dragged along anyway.
The Stoics used a striking metaphor to explain this:
Metaphor: Dog Leashed to a Moving Cart
“Fate leads the willing, and drags along the reluctant.” – Seneca
The Stoics used the “dog leashed to a cart” metaphor:
The wise man is like a dog leashed to a moving cart, running joyfully alongside and smoothly keeping pace with it, whereas a foolish man is like a dog that grumbly struggles against the leash but finds himself dragged alongside the cart anyway.
The moving cart stands for your life and everything that happens. The dog stands for us. Either we enjoy the ride and make the best of our life’s journey, or we fight against everything that happens and get dragged along anyway. We can fight as much as we want, the cart moves in whatever direction it wants to – up & down and through mud & dirt.
Things happen in life, good or bad, and as soon as they have happened, we can’t change them. They are there just like the muddy uphill road. It might be painful, it might suck. But you cannot change the situation itself, you cannot magically flatten and dry the muddy hill. You can only change what you make of it – muddy or not.
Which dog has the better life?
Both dogs are in the same situation, one just enjoys it much more because he doesn’t fight against what he can’t beat – fate. Nobody wants to get dragged along, so there is really just one option: make the best of the journey the cart driver chooses for you.
“But if I simply accept everything then I can just resign and do nothing.”
ATTENTION: Accepting whatever Happens Does Not Mean to Give Up
“It is far easier to talk of the way things should be. It takes toughness, humility, and will to accept them for what they actually are. It takes a real man or woman to face necessity.” – Ryan Holiday
Accepting what is takes much more than fighting what is.
It’s easy to grouch about the way things are. It’s much more difficult to accept and even love the things however they are. This is far from passive resignation. The Stoic acceptance of what happens and to face necessity takes toughness, humility, and will.
The argument that “there is no sense in doing anything if everything happens as it does” is just plain lazy. And it’s an excuse. Again, it takes so much more to accept rather than fight everything that happens.
And even though you cannot decide what exact events happen in your life, the outcomes of those events still often depend on your actions. It is your actions of today that shape the events of your tomorrow.
Look, just because you try to love what happened does not mean you condone it or approve of it. It just means that you understand that you cannot change it and that it’s your best option to accept it and try to make the best of it. And then take the smartest actions from this Stoic acceptance.
“No one wants their children to get sick, no one wants to be in a car accident; but when these things happen, how can it be helpful to mentally argue with them?” – Byron Katie
Things suck sometimes. That’s for sure. But it doesn’t help to fight with them.
Why fighting with reality sucks we’ll learn in the next part. First, let’s quickly recap the first part.
Quick Recap: Amor fati is a Latin term coined by Nietzsche and means loving acceptance of your fate. The idea is to love everything that happens.Already the Stoics said that the key to a smoothly flowing life was to wish for events to happen as they do. This has nothing to do with passive resignation as it takes much more to accept rather than fight everything that happens. Your actions do matter.
Why Is It so Powerful to Love Everything that Happens?
Why should we try to love everything that happens?
Let’s look at the No 1 reason why you should accept and love everything that happens. Also, why you should quit musturbation, and how legendary inventor Thomas Edison enjoyed watching his factory burning down.
What You Control: Stay in Your Business
“Floods will rob us of one thing, fire of another. These are conditions of our existence which we cannot change. What we can do is adopt a noble spirit, such a spirit as befits a good person, so that we may bear up bravely under all that fortune sends us and bring our wills into tune with nature’s.” – Seneca
For the most part, we have no control over our lives (remember the moving cart we’re leashed to?).
Floods and fires might have robbed the ancient Stoics of their homes and harvest. Today such natural catastrophes still happen, but we mostly have different enemies in our everyday lives. Drivers and colleagues that drive us mad, tackers that don’t work, and serious stuff such as illness or a lost job.
Point is, many things happen to us that we have no control over. We can’t change those things. They are basically not our business. Our business is only what we make of those things. I love how Byron Katie puts it in her book Loving What Is:
“I can find only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God’s. (For me, the word ‘God’ means ‘reality.’ Reality is God, because it rules. Anything that’s out of my control, your control, and everyone else’s control – I call that God’s business.)”
She goes on, “Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business. When I think, ‘You need to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need to take better care of yourself,’ then I am in your business. When I’m worried about earthquakes, floods, war, of when I will die, I am in God’s business.”
Living in someone else’s or in God’s business results in tension, anxiety, and frustration. We have no control over these businesses. The only thing we can do is to accept (or love) them and focus on our own business, that’s all we have control over.
Think about it, if you try to make the weather, sooner or later you’ll freak out, because you cannot make the weather. It is in the laps of the gods. The weather just is as it is. And so is everything else which is not in our own business.
To resent what happens is to wrongly assume you have a choice in that matter. And that will lead to suffering. Here’s why…
Pain Gaps or Why You Should Quit Musturbation
“We can see that our pain lies between what we think should happen and what actually happens. Then, if we remove the secret demand for this or that to happen, the pain-gap vanishes.” – Vernon Howard
This is immensely powerful. We need to realize that our pain, no matter if fear, frustration, or anger, comes from resenting reality. We suffer because we argue with what happens, we want reality to be different from what it is. That leads to pain.
It’s what we find in Byron Katie’s book Loving What Is on page 1(!):
“The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want.”
She compares wanting reality to be different to trying to teach a cat to bark. It is hopeless. Reality is what it is. If our mind is clear, what is is what we want.
And yet, we end up wanting reality to be different all the time. “My husband should bring home flowers sometimes.” “The neighbor should mow the lawn.” “Our son should find a job.” “My butt should be tighter.” “The train shouldn’t be delayed.” “The weather should be nicer.”
These thoughts are all ways of wanting reality to be different than it is. This leads to a lot of stress, caused by arguing with what is (and what cannot be changed).
“Musturbation” is what psychologist Albert Ellis calls this insistence that things should or must be a certain way, the way we want it to be, or the way we expected it to be. Musturbation fights with reality and makes you stressed out and unhappy. So quit musturbating.
If fighting with reality leaves us suffering, then we only have one option: Not to fight reality. Unconditional acceptance is the solution, whether you like reality or not. Amor fati – love what happens. Because you cannot change it anyway.
Here’s an impressive example of loving what happens.
Example: Thomas Edison and His Burning Research Lab
Here’s a great real life example of putting a love of fate into practice. I learned about it in Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle Is the Way. It tells a story from the life of Thomas Edison, the great inventor:
At age sixty-seven, Thomas Edison returned home early one evening from another day at his research lab. After dinner, a man came rushing into his house with urgent news: A fire had broken out at Edison’s research campus a few miles away.
Fire engines could not stop the fire. Fueled by strange chemicals, green and yellow flames shot up six stories, threatening to destroy the entire empire Edison had spent his life building.
As soon as Edison made it to the scene, he calmly told his son, “Go get your mother and all her friends, they’ll never see a fire like this again.”
“Don’t worry,” Edison calmed his son. “It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”
What an amazing reaction, right? But when you think about it, there was really no other option. What else could he have done? Wept? Gotten angry? Given up?
That would have accomplished absolutely nothing, zero, nada.
Instead, Edison vowed, “Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.”
Indeed he did!
While the fire was at its peak, Edison noticed how the firefighters were handicapped by the lack of power and light. That’s when he came up with the idea of portable search lights. Within two days (!), Edison had finalized this idea. (You can read the whole story here.)
This story shows how you can accept what happens even if it’s devastating. It’s supposed to happen and you better make the best of it. You can’t change it. You can’t undo it. You can only accept it, love it, and make the best of it. And try to make sure it won’t happen again.
Quick recap: Loving everything that happens is so powerful because it’s simply the best, if not the only, option. Fighting with what is, arguing with reality will make everything worse. It’s the root cause of your suffering. It’s not what happened that’s painful, it’s your belief that it should be different that’s causing all your pain. Of course, things suck sometimes, but you cannot change them. You can only change the way you deal with them. Things should not be any different, they should be exactly as they are, because that’s how they are.
How to Get There? 3 Practical Strategies to Love Your Fate
How to love your fate?
Here are three strategies to help you get there. I learned about all of them in Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth. I highly recommend reading it. You can currently get it for 25 cents plus shipping here.
Nonresistance: Is That So?
“Seneca said that Zeus is like a general and mankind his army, we must follow his lead whether we like it or not, but ‘it is a bad soldier who follows his commander grumbling and groaning.’” – Donald Robertson
Things happen in life that we don’t control.
Whether we like them or not, we have to follow those leads, like the dog which runs alongside the cart joyfully. Seneca said that it’s a bad soldier who grumbles and groans, like it is a poor dog which gets dragged behind the cart.
We should not resist what happens. It’s like the saying, what you resist persists.
Here is a story Eckhart Tolle tells in his great book A New Earth: There is this Zen Master Hakuin who responds to whatever happens with the words, “Is that so?”
“The Master responds to falsehood and truth, bad news and good news, in exactly the same way: ‘Is that so?’ He allows the form of the moment, good or bad, to be as it is and so does not become a participant in human drama. To him there is only this moment, and this moment is as it is… Only if you resist what happens are you at the mercy of what happens, and the world will determine your happiness and unhappiness.”
(You can read the full story here.)
The idea is simple: Take every moment as it is. Take reality as it is. Do not resist it or it will have power over you. If you do not resist, if you take it as it comes, it has no power over you.
Here’s another way to think about it: I love how Marcus Aurelius compares what happens to us like what a doctor prescribes to us (Meditations 5.8). Just like you take some medicine when a doctor tells you to, we should take external events just as they are, because they are, just like the doctor’s medicine, there to help us.
What happens to us is basically nature’s treatment for us to get better people.Those things happen for us, not against us, even if it sometimes doesn’t seem so. We should not fight, but rather accept and love those things. And see what good they can do for us. Just like Edison did when he enjoyed the magnificent flames when his lab burned down.
Look, I know, it feels unnatural to believe that something that feels so bitter is actually good for us. But it’s the best we can do, to take it as it is, and think it is good just because it is the way it is.
Don’t resist reality.
Nonjudgment: The Maybe Story
“Watch this 2 minute video, it’s the smartest thing you’ll do today.”
– Sir Wise Butt Unknown
This is the maybe story I learned about from Eckhart Tolle. Although he tells it a bit differently (with a man who won an expensive car), the idea stays the same:
We should not judge events because we don’t know what they mean and where they’ll lead us. Instead, we should simply accept everything that happens as it is – not good, nor bad, but as it is.
In the video this sounds so easy, in real life, though, it is much harder. Obviously.
Shit happens and we get this feeling that all is lost. All is over now. We end up in complaints, pity, and misery – struggling against something that’s already happened.
Why bother, though?
We don’t know what the future brings. We have no idea what’s coming up next. It could be more problems, or this could be the darkness before the dawn. How should we know? How should anybody else know?
The truth is, things happen and we don’t know whether they’re good or bad. What we do know, is that they’ve happened. Things have occurred. There is no reason in lamenting over something that’s already happened. It ain’t gonna change.
Accept without judging.
Sure, if your house burns down and you lose everything you have, it looks pretty darn annoying. And you can admit that it sucks. But who knows, maybe that’s exactly what you needed in your life situation, as dumb as this may sound. You cannot be sure that this is bad. Stay with the facts: your house burned down and you lost everything but your life and what you’re wearing.
You don’t know what opportunities will pop out from the ashes of the burned house.
Nonattachment: This, Too, Will Pass
“There is one thing and only one thing that causes unhappiness. The name of that thing is Attachment.” – Anthony de Mello
Things are impermanent. They come and go.
That smile in the person you love won’t be there forever. The pain you feel when you stub your toe will go away. The fancy lifestyle you enjoy so much will pass, too.
The problem with getting attached to things, people, wealth, status, looks, and jobs, is that those things are outside your choice. How long you’ll be able to keep them is not in your control.
It’s those attachments that make it so hard to accept change. Once we have them, we don’t want to let go. We become slaves to the status quo.
“Life is in a constant change. And so are we. To get upset by things is to wrongly assume that they will last. To kick ourselves or blame others is grabbing at the wind. To resent change is to wrongly assume that you have a choice in the matter.” – Ryan Holiday
Things come and go. The only thing that stays is your ability to decide what change will mean to you. You can stay adaptable and resilient. And you can decide to not get too attached to whatever it is you like.
Things are impermanent.
The third story from Eckhart Tolle I share with you reminds us of the impermanence of things and will lead to nonattachment:
So there was this king who was continuously torn between happiness and despondency. The slightest thing would cause him great upset or provoke an intense reaction, and his happiness would quickly turn into disappointment and despair.
He sought out a wise man and asked him for something that would bring balance, serenity, and wisdom to his life. Of course, the king would pay any price.
A few weeks later the wise man returned and brought a simple gold ring with the inscription: “This, too, will pass.” The wise man advised, “Wear this ring always. Whatever happens, before you call it good or bad, touch this ring and read the inscription.”
Now, this will give the king, and all of us, some relief when something bad happens. But, and way more important, it will also remind us of the impermanence of the good things that happen to us. We should not get too attached, because things won’t last.
Don’t get attached to things. Everything is in a constant change. Things come and go.
“This, too, will pass.”
Quick recap: What can you do to love your fate? (1) Nonresistence: Don’t resist whatever happens to you. It’s good the way it is, even if it sucks a ton. Take it as it is and make the best of it. (2) Nonjudgment: Don’t judge whatever happens good or bad. Because you don’t know. Something may seem bad but will turn out good in an instant. Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s bad. (3) Nonattachment: Don’t get attached to things. Because nothing lasts. Everything is in constant change. Attachment will cause you pain when things change. “This, too, will pass.”
“Accept – then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept is as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your life.” – Eckhart Tolle
Learn to accept your fate.
And then learn to love it.
You first need to accept whatever happens to you. Once you can accept it, you can try to love it.
It’s a transition from have to into get to.
“I have to accept it.” –> “I get to enjoy it.”
What helps me most is the fact that I cannot change what happened anyway. So I want to make the best of it. And I know the best is to love whatever happens. I don’t want to fight reality. It’s a game I cannot win.
Whatever happens happens specifically FOR YOU.
(Even if it doesn’t seem so.)
Amor fati, my friend.