We can’t change the things that happen to us. We can’t change other people. Trying to change what defies change only wastes our time and frustrates us.
Trying to swim upstream always doesn’t get us where we want to be. We have to practice acceptance when life situations are bad.
“Truth is not what you want it to be; it is what it is, and you must bend to its power or live a lie.” – Miyamoto Musashi
And no, amor fati is not resignation at the feet of fate.
What Does “Amor Fati” Mean?
Amor fati means “love of fate” and “loving acceptance of one’s fate.” It is the belief that we can find happiness only when we warmly accept everything that happens to us and around us. It is also the idea that we have a duty to accept whatever life throws at us.
It was 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who made the Latin phrase “amor fati” popular.
“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
What Nietzsche proposed was that amor fati is the formula for a happy life. To practice amor fati is not to wish for reality to be any different from it already is, but rather to love the thing that happened.
Adverse circumstances affect all of us. When we resist, deny, or express our anger with them, we are circling the same field, fighting battles we will never win.
However, when we choose to accept what happened, good or bad, it opens up avenues for a new course of action. This acceptance is amor fati—loving and accepting all that happens.
The truth is, we cannot expect others to change, but can only change ourselves. That’s what the Stoics have been teaching us for two millennia.
The Stoic Idea of Amor Fati
Nearly 2000 years ago, the slave-turned-philosopher named Epictetus said something quite similar:
“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.” — Epictetus
This was the Stoic principle of the “art of acquiescence” – the acceptance of, rather than resistance to, everything that life deals us with.
Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher king, who once visited Athens and perhaps sat in a class of Epictetus, said:
“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” — Marcus Aurelius
He again mentions it in his journal Meditations:
“Objective judgement, now, at this very moment. Unselfish action, now, at this very moment. Willing acceptance—now, at this very moment—of all external events. That’s all you need.” — Marcus Aurelius
Seneca, the philosopher, and advisor to Emperor Nero, beautifully said:
“A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.“—Seneca
Seneca understood that “true happiness is to enjoy the present without anxious dependence upon the future.” So, he warned that when we imagine an alternate reality, we make our minds go through the pain. Rather, we should focus on the reality itself, which is much less painful.
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.“—Seneca The Younger
Does Amor Fati Mean Surrendering To Fate?
Amor fati is accepting without submitting. Acceptance is not passive compliance.
Accepting is welcoming without giving in to fatalism. Fatalism, or permanently surrendering to the inevitability of fate, is learned helplessness.
Acceptance is agreeing to engage and act. Because even if you cannot control what events occur in your life, the outcomes of those events depend greatly on your actions. It is your acts today that determine your destiny tomorrow.
Acceptance does not ask you to surrender to your fate and drop at her feet. Acceptance does not mean blaming and condemning someone for what happened.
Acceptance just means that you say, “Yes, it has happened. And it has happened the way it had to happen. How can I move on?”
Reminding yourself to accept a fateful event allows you to unbind yourself from the bad event. It lets you let go of the associated bitterness and frustration.
When you “amor fati” the bad event, you can detach from the situation and forgive the people in it. Forgiving means evicting them from your mind so that they no longer bother you.
When you accept the reality of the present situation, you look at the event for what it taught you. Then you can plan with fresh motivation.
Accepting fate without judgment
The gracefulness of loving everything that happens without wishing for anything to be apart from what is, includes a sense of non-judgment.
Acceptance of our fate without judgment of ourselves is true amor fati.
- First, it is the acceptance of people around us, especially their behavior and comments when we are down and out.
- Second, it is the acceptance of all worldly events, the good, and the bad, taking both as they are.
- Third, it is acceptance of ourselves, believing we gave it our best and will go ahead with the same stance.
Acceptance is the only happy option
The Stoic mentors were fond of telling the story of two dogs tied to two carts.
The wise man is like a dog leashed to a moving cart who runs along joyfully and keeps pace with it smoothly. But the foolish man is like the dog that fights against the leash and whines out loud, but is nevertheless dragged with the cart.
The moving cart represents our life and its events. The dog represents us. Either we enjoy the trip and make the most of our lives, or we fight everything that happens and gets forcibly pulled along nonetheless.
We can struggle all we want, but the cart will still go where it needs to go, pulling our whiny selves through the ups and downs, and muck and water on the road.
Both the dogs are in a similar situation. One dog accepts what it is given and is content to go where it is led, but the other dog refuses what it is given and is pulled along.
Our sufferings exist in the space between our expectations and reality.
Expect little, accept all, judge none.
Most events happen without us having a say in their occurrence. We can either welcome them in joy and love what fate dealt us, or we shall be dragged along the cart.
So, instead of battling reality, which can only cause us pain, embrace it completely and live joyfully.
Go ahead and amor fati—love whatever happens because you can’t change them anyway.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, mindfulness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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