This short explainer will provide you with a straightforward understanding of what Amor Fati is and how you can use it in your Stoic practice.
Definition Of Amor Fati
The phrase “amor fati” is Latin for “love of one’s fate.” It describes the attitude whereby one not only accepts everything that happens in life, including adversity and loss, but actually loves it.
While the concept of amor fati has been linked back to Stoics like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, it was the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) who stated it concisely in his book Ecce Homo:
“My formula for greatness in a human being 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—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.”
Nietzsche also referred to amor fati in his book The Gay Science:
“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly, I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”
A person adopting the attitude of amor fati, therefore, is someone who not only accepts everything that happens but also seeks to transfigure negative events into something positive with an enthusiastic spirit of gratitude.
What The Stoics Said
While the Stoics didn’t specifically use the phrase “amor fati”, the concept flowed freely through their teachings.
Epictetus summarized it well in Chapter 8 of his Enchiridion:
“Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.”
And in The Art of Living he reminds us that although loving everything that happens sounds like a difficult attitude to adopt, we are more than capable:
“Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.
Prudent people look beyond the incident itself and seek to form the habit of putting it to good use.
On the occasion of an accidental event, don’t just react in a haphazard fashion: Remember to turn inward and ask what resources you have for dealing with it. Dig deeply. You possess strengths you might not realize you have. Find the right one. Use it.”
In his Meditations (4.23), Marcus Aurelius also conveyed his willingness to accept what Fate has to offer:
“Universe, whatever is consonant with you is consonant with me; if something is timely for you, it’s neither too early nor too late for me. Nature, everything is fruit to me that your seasons bring; everything comes from you, everything is contained in you, everything returns to you.”
And Seneca, in his Moral Letter 78, recommended the expectation of future troubles as a means of making our acceptance and love of Fate easier:
“Hold fast to this thought, and grip it close: yield not to adversity; trust not to prosperity; keep before your eyes the full scope of Fortune’s power, as if she would surely do whatever is in her power to do. That which has been long expected comes more gently.”
How Can I Use Amor Fati Right Now?
In calling amor fati an attitude of acceptance and a loving of fate it perhaps sounds somewhat abstract. So how can we take inspiration from the Stoics and use it in our own lives in a practical way?
Loving our fate is of course harder when the event we’re faced with is an undesirable one, so let’s focus on that. We might receive bad news, we might make a mistake at work, we might upset someone unintentionally, we might get injured, the list is endless. That’s Fate, that’s life.
If we prepare our own amor fati-inspired response to these situations ahead of time, we won’t be caught off-guard when they occur.
Here is an amor fati practice you can use when fate hasn’t been kind:
To begin, we need to remember that an event being good or bad comes from our own judgement. What one person views as bad, another person might not. Therefore, we should try to view the event as objectively as possible in the beginning.
Action: Write a description of the event in the plainest, most unemotional language you can. Reading it back, it should already seem a lot less catastrophic.
We have a clear definition of the issue. Now we need to accept it has occurred. Jocko Willink, the author and ex-Navy SEAL, has a mantra for these situations: “Good.” He explains it in his book Discipline Equals Freedom:
“When things are going bad: Don’t get all bummed out, don’t get startled, don’t get frustrated. No. Just look at the issue and say: “Good.” Now, I don’t mean to say something trite; I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Smiley Positive Guy. That guy ignores the hard truth. That guy thinks a positive attitude will solve problems. It won’t. But neither will dwelling on the problem. No. Accept reality, but focus on the solution. Take that issue, take that setback, take that problem, and turn it into something good.”
Action: Come up with your own acceptance mantra to say in the midst of difficulty or just use Jocko Willink’s “Good.” Saying it out loud as part of this process will help habitualize the practice.
Remember, when things are going bad, there is always a way to create some good from it. To progress from accepting our Fate to loving it, we can choose to view the troubles that befall us as challenges. Challenges show us what we are capable of. In this way, we might even look forward to difficult situations.
Action: Look back at your description from Step 1 and consider all the possible solutions to the problem that are within your control. Pick the best solution and break it down into small, manageable tasks. Start work on the first task.
4. Final Reminder
As the old saying goes, this too shall pass. Learning to love the difficult times gives us even more of life to love. If we wish time to move faster just to get past our challenges then we’re wishing away time that we’ll never get back. Time we could have loved.