In one of my earlier videos, I have talked about amor fati. Amor fati means ‘love of fate’, and is a concept in Stoic philosophy but also in the works of Nietzsche. The idea is to love and embrace whatever the outcome is; no matter how hard we work towards a certain goal. This way, we detach ourselves from possible results which enhances the ability to focus on the task at hand and take away the anxiety that we may have concerning the future. The next question is of course: how can we do this? In this video, I explore 4 ways to practice amor fati.
Love of fate. The concept is simple; implementing it is more difficult because most minds drift off to the future very easily, and begin to fantasize about things that might happen.
When we are restless because of the future, we either desire or averse a certain outcome. When we desire a certain outcome, the idea of not getting it makes us anxious. When we averse a certain outcome, the idea of incurring it makes us anxious. Thus, it’s the attachment to outcomes that creates the turmoil in our minds.
To solve this, Epictetus argues that we should remove desire and aversion in regards to things that are not in our control.
If you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed; and of those which are, and which it would be laudable to desire, nothing is yet in your possession. Use only the appropriate actions of pursuit and avoidance; and even these lightly, and with gentleness and reservation.Epictetus, Enchiridion, 2
Now, this is easier said than done. The Stoics believe that humans are naturally inclined to look for things that enhance their lives and avoid things that don’t. For example, we naturally look for wealth, healthy food, friendship, companionship, et cetera. The Stoics called these things ‘indifferents’, that consist of preferred and dispreferred indifferents.
So, it’s understandable that the prospect of losing or not obtaining certain preferred indifferents creates anxiety. The Stoics say, however, that these external factors are not necessary to be happy. This is great news because they are not in our control, so they would be very unreliable sources of happiness.
Nevertheless, many people worry endlessly about the future. In order to reduce this maelstrom of anxious thoughts, trying to control the outcome is pointless, because we can’t. What we can control, however, is the position we take towards the outcome, which the following 4 ways will be about.
1) Purposefully expose yourself to the thing you averse.
Oftentimes, the things we averse are not as bad as we imagine them. Many people dread the idea of poverty for example, which isn’t so strange because in the current society we are constantly told that being poor is a terrible thing. Someone fearing poverty might ask oneself: how can I possibly live without a 4-bedroom house, a car of a certain brand, two vacations a year, eating in a restaurant at least once a week, and so on?
The key to reducing the fear of certain outcomes, it to actually expose ourselves to them so we experience that a perceived negative outcome is not so bad. This way, we become familiar with hardship and, thus, prepared for it. Stoic philosopher Seneca had a nice quote about this:
It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence.Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, 18
The Stoics figured out that we do not need all these external things to be happy; happiness comes down to your own actions. So, when you fear poverty: how about living like a poor person for a number of days, in order to discover that being poor isn’t so bad as we think?
Another common fear is the fear of being single and alone. When you’re afraid of this, how about saying ‘no’ to relationships for a while, and try to rely on yourself for happiness?
Once we find out that being single actually can be a great thing; we stop the fear of being alone once we are in a relationship. This also prevents us from staying in abusive relationships, so we can take steps into the direction we want without fearing the consequences.
2) See change as an opportunity
When I look back at life, I have seen that many things I feared actually came true. I have lost jobs, I have been kicked out of school a few times, I have lost relationships, friends and many opportunities. At the same time, I also got other things in return; as if life always tries to balance itself out.
After I finished college I was not able to find a job because of the financial crisis. The worst-case scenario happened: I had to work several simple jobs that were not what I wanted to do. When I look back, the experiences I had during these years were absolutely life-changing. I was able to do things and develop myself in certain ways, that I would never have done if my life turned out as I had previously hoped, and I’m happy things happened as they happened. Here is a quote by Epictetus:
Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.Epictetus, Enchridion, 8
Yes, we fear losing our jobs, losing our marriage, losing our money. But new situations, no matter how dreadful, always have new opportunities hidden in them.
In his meditations, Marcus Aurelius states that we should look for:
..constant awareness that everything is born from change. The knowledge that there is nothing nature loves more than to alter what exists and make new things like it. All that exists is the seed of what will emerge from it.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4-36
3) Realize that happiness is relative.
In one of my earliest videos, I have discussed how happiness is adaptive. In 1978 there was a study by Brickman, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman, who wanted to find out if happiness is relative. In order to find that out, they studied a group of lottery winners, a group of paralyzed accident victims and a control group.
Of course, we would expect that a lottery winner is much happier than someone who ended up paralyzed by an accident. And we also would expect that lottery winners are much happier than the control group, that didn’t win the lottery but weren’t paralyzed either.
In the first weeks or so, this was indeed the case. But one year later, the controls and the lottery winners were equally happy, and only slightly happier than the paralyzed accident victims.
So if happiness is relative: why should we fear the future? The time and energy we spend on fearing the future is most likely worse than the future itself.
Last year, my uncle was diagnosed with cancer. At this moment he has been given up by the doctors which means that he might not see the new year. When I visited him recently, he told me that he feels fantastic. He enjoys life to the fullest and is grateful for every day that is given to him.
So, whatever tragedy happens: we know that the new circumstances never exclude a sense of happiness and wellbeing. Moreover, we might unexpectedly feel even better than before in the face of hardship.
4) Be present
Now, the ways I have listed so far all have one thing in common: they point out that whatever happens: we will cope with the new circumstances. That we need the external things associated with our current life situation to be happy is an illusion; happiness is relative, as well as unhappiness. The future is just another path: not good, not bad; only if the mind makes it so. Change is the very essence of life; resisting change is like resisting life: this resistance is what makes us suffer and not the change itself.
As soon as we resist change, we’re already in the future. Because instead of accepting the present moment we try to preserve it for the days to come. Furthermore, we can say that there’s no future nor is there a past. There’s only now. When fate comes, it comes in the present. That’s why embracing fate can only be done in the present moment. So, when the future hasn’t arrived yet, why worry about it? But when it comes, love it as it’s here. Love it before it’s gone because if you don’t, you might regret that you didn’t enjoy the moment when it was right before you.
Amor fati is the art of embracing whatever happens and not needing a single day beyond the present. As Seneca wrote about Epicurus, who was tortured by painful diseases and said: “To-day and one other day have been the happiest of all!”