The Stoic philosophers embraced a concept known as amor fati, meaning “love of one’s fate.” Though they didn’t use this particular Latin term, the notion that individuals should learn to embrace and accept the entirety of their experience is something that comes up again and again in the writings of the Stoics.
It’s easy to embrace great things when they happen, but it doesn’t come as naturally to love those parts of life that we feel annoyed by, ashamed of, or devastated by. When something bad happens to you, it probably isn’t your first instinct to think “good, I love it.”
The reality is, though, that it’s adversity, obstacles, and challenges that help you grow stronger, wiser, more courageous, and more developed as a person. If you can accept this as true, it becomes a lot easier to accept what happens to you in life, whether it seems good or bad at the time.
Friedrich Nietzsche described amor fati as his formula for human greatness, and the term is fairly understood to be a central concept in the philosophy of ancient Stoicism. Let’s explore the meaning of amor fati, how to practice loving your fate, and much more.
The Latin phrase amor fati can be translated as “love of one’s fate” or “love of fate.” The mindset described by this phrase is one in which an individual sees all of the things that occur in their lives as necessary if not good. This doesn’t just refer to the good things that happen, but the suffering and loss one endures as well.
While this notion is most often attributed to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the Stoic philosophers also embraced this concept.
Before we get too deep into the meaning of amor fati, let’s talk about fate for a minute.
Fate is defined by Merriam-Webster as:
“[T]he will or principle or determining cause by which things, in general, are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do.”
While the concept of fate might seem to be inherently religious, the Yale Mind and Development Lab found that the majority of both religious and atheistic respondents in three separate experiments supported the idea of fate.
While it would be easy to write a whole book on this fascinating topic, the short version is that people tend to believe that life events “happen for a reason” even if they don’t credit this to God or another higher power.
The concepts of fate and destiny have been a part of philosophical discussions since at least the Hellenistic period. While the Epicureans believed that, so long as a human’s actions were rational, they were also voluntary. The Stoics, on the other hand, believed that the circumstances of an individual’s life is a part of a universal network of fate.
Basically, the Stoics believed that everything that happens is a part of an intimately connected chain of cause and effect, which is steered by the providential plan of fate outlined by the gods.
At the same time, the Stoics did assert that our actions are ultimately up to us, leaving room for the idea of free will within their concept of a universe guided by fate.
Some criticisms of Stoicism involve what is known as The Lazy Argument, which argues that the actions of an individual don’t matter if everything that happens is fated to occur. This could, as the argument goes, encourage people to be lazy because whatever happens is destined to happen no matter what you do.
The following quote by Zeno of Citium is perhaps the best way to understand the Stoic response to this argument:
“When a dog is tied to a cart, if it wants to follow, it is pulled and follows, making its spontaneous act coincide with necessity. But if the dog does not follow, it will be compelled in any case. So it is with men too: even if they don't want to, they will be compelled to follow what is destined.”
This encapsulates an important concept in Stoic thought: the only control you have over external events is the reaction you have to them.
Though the Stoics didn’t directly use the term amor fati, they did embrace the concept as a way to live a more virtuous and fulfilling life.
To the Stoics, one should work to accept and embrace everything that happens. This means everything in the past, the present, and the future is something you should learn to “love,” even when those things seem catastrophic, disastrous, and painful.
When you practice amor fati, you are grasping the reality that the nature of the universe is changing. Nothing could exist without change, and it is therefore necessary. This is the case even if the change brings about joy, suffering, excitement, loss, anxiety, or some other emotion.
Marcus Aurelius discussed the necessity of change in his Meditations, asking:
“Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? What’s closer to nature’s heart? Can you take a hot bath and leave the firewood as it was? Eat food without transforming it? Can any vital process take place without something being changed?
Can’t you see? It’s just the same with you—and just as vital to nature.” – Marcus Aurelius
For more insights from the great Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor, check out our article full of the best Marcus Aurelius quotes here.
The most explicit expression of the concept of amor fati is found in the writings of Nietzsche, who placed the love of fate right in the center of his philosophy. In his last book before his death, Ecce Homo, Nietzsche states:
"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."
To Nietzsche, amor fati means accepting everything that happens in one’s life enthusiastically. This means you don’t have regrets and you don’t want to erase anything that happened in your past. Instead, you embrace the good, the bad, and the indifferent.
The German philosopher also wrote of his love of fate in the Gay Science, which he wrote during a period of immense personal difficulty. He writes:
“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.”
This is a particularly powerful message in our day and age when it seems that the media conversation is constantly accusatory and combative. It’s easy to look around and see what is wrong with one’s own life and the world at large. It’s much more difficult to have faith that everything that occurs is necessary as a part of a larger whole, no matter how challenging those occurrences might be.
Nietzsche doesn’t just touch upon not waging “war against what is ugly,” but he takes it one step forward to say that he does not “even want to accuse those who accuse.” He grasps the extent to which he, as an individual, can either be someone who makes things beautiful or makes things ugly on a larger scale and sees amor fati as a central piece to being a maker of beauty.
It’s one thing to see the value in embracing, accepting, and loving your fate. It’s an entirely different story to actually practice this philosophy.
When you practice amor fati, it means you welcome the future whatever it may hold. It means you won't regret your past, no matter how mistake-ridden you feel it was. While it might be a struggle to see all of your life events as good, you can work first on seeing all the events of life as necessary.
It’s important to understand that loving your fate isn’t just a cheap cover for being lazy in life. Believing in fate doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter what you do because whatever is going to happen will happen regardless of your own actions.
In our modern age, we tend to think of ourselves as entirely separate beings rather than parts of a whole. Historically, the network we are all a part of was much more present because of the way that humans relied on one another to survive. We still rely on one another to survive, but this reality is much more invisible.
We don’t think much about the people that help keep the electric grid up and running, for example, which powers our refrigerators, our devices, our lights, our heating, and cooling systems, and more.
We don’t think much about the people that maintain the roads we drive on or who build the apps we use. In an increasingly digital world, it becomes much easier to feel like islands in an ocean.
The truth is, though, that our actions as individuals have an impact, though it may be small, on the larger outcomes of the world and reality. A belief in fate doesn’t mean you should stop connecting with and engaging with life, and, if used correctly, can actually make you much more effective as a person in the world.
“While the fates permit, live happily; life speeds on with hurried step, and with winged days the wheel of the headlong year is turned.” – Seneca
If you want to work on loving your fate, one of the first steps you can take is being more present in the moment.
The state of focusing one’s awareness on the present moment is commonly referred to as mindfulness. When you are practicing mindfulness, it means that you are paying attention to the here-and-now with an attitude of acceptance. You aren’t just focusing on the present with your thoughts, but also with your feelings and bodily sensations. You are 100% tuned in to the present.
Studies have found that there are countless benefits to practicing mindfulness, including:
When you’re attached to the past or anxious about the future, you can’t fully accept what presently is.
There are a lot of different practices you can try to increase your ability to be present in the moment. These include:
It’s all too easy to go through life never being present. If you’re used to always having your mind somewhere other than the now, sitting quietly or taking a walk without a podcast can feel agonizing. The first step is to become aware of the way you are using your time and how you react to the prospect of simply connecting with the present moment.
As you work to become more present, it will become more and more natural and you will feel less resistance.
If you want to learn how to love your fate, tapping into what’s happening right now will help ensure that you aren’t getting lost in contemplation of all times other than the present.
Accepting the fact that you will die (and everyone you know will, too,) is an important aspect of loving your own fate.
We don’t like to talk about death in our culture, and if you tell your friends, coworkers, or parents that you’ve been meditating on death you’ll probably receive some skeptical looks. People think that acknowledging death is morbid, but studies have found that there are many benefits to the contemplation of death.
Meditating on death can mean taking a few minutes every day to imagine your last moments of life and how it will feel, taking a walk in a cemetery, writing in a journal about your mortality, or reading Stoic quotes about death.
When you tune in to the reality that your time on earth is finite, it can help you realize that fixating on the past or future isn’t the best way to spend your time. It can help you appreciate what you do have, see the lessons you’ve learned from mistakes, and consider the fact that your current circumstance could be a necessary step in the story of your life.
When you face the reality of death, it helps you recognize your desire to make the most of the time you do have.
“Try not to react merely in the moment. Pull back from the situation. Take a wider view. Compose yourself.”-- Epictetus
Have you ever had an experience that felt like a huge deal at the time, only to look back and realize that you hardly even remember it? It’s easy to get sucked into tiny crises and wrapped up in insignificant aspects of experience. If you can make it a habit to zoom out on your life and look at it on a longer timeline, you can put your current circumstance into perspective.
If you find yourself in a vicious cycle of ruminating about the past and freaking out about the future, zooming out can be a big help. One great exercise is to remember a time when you were unhappy about your circumstance that you feel nostalgic for now.
For example, let’s say you worked three crappy jobs at the same time in order to fund your business idea. You cut every cost you could and saved every penny in order to make your dream a reality. You lived in a run-down apartment with roommates you couldn’t stand, and all you could think about was making your business a success.
And then here you are now: you made it! Your business took off and you’re making way more money than you ever dreamed of. You have the house of your dreams and you have total control over the hours you work.
How could it be that you feel nostalgic for those scrappy days when your business was just a glimmer in your eye? Somehow, you find yourself fondly reminiscing about the sound of the birds chirping after you pulled another all-nighter, and the taste of cigarettes you smoked as you were walking between jobs on a chilly day.
Though it seems silly, this type of experience is all too common. If you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself complaining about the present and wishing for a previous time for the rest of your life.
If you can zoom out and see the seasons of life, it can help you learn to accept and even love your experience.
If life has you down, maybe it’s time to look at things from a different angle. Imagine that you are someone else looking in on your life from the outside. What would you see? Would you like what you see?
This practice can help you gain a better sense of your current situation. It can help you have empathy for yourself and see where there are weak spots you want to work on.
Next time you wash the dishes, vacuum the rug or perform some other mundane task, pay attention to the emotions that arise in your mind and body. After a few minutes, begin to look at each action you’re taking as if they are completely novel like it’s the first time you’ve performed such an action.
As you continue, tap into the subtle feelings of your body as you make slow, deliberate movements to finish the task. You’ll find that something you once found boring because fascinating and exciting, and that your mind is much more focused and clearer.
This is a great exercise to practice frequently, as it can help you learn to accept and love the reality of your circumstance and the gift of being alive.
Consider coming up with a mantra to repeat when you find yourself in a situation you are reluctant to embrace as a part of your fate. Author and ex-Navy seal, Jocko Willink, has a simple mantra for unpleasant situations: “Good.”
It might sound crazy to say “good” when you get into a terrible car accident or your house got broken into, but the reality is that you have to accept your situation in order to find a solution and overcome the obstacle in front of you. When you defeat the challenge that’s been put in front of you, whether you brought it upon yourself or it fell from the sky, you grow stronger, more capable, and wiser.
Do you hate waiting in lines, getting stuck in traffic, or getting caught in a rainstorm?
Whatever it is you hate, you can practice amor fati the next time you’re trapped in a situation you can’t stand. While you’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic, think about how nice it is to have a few more minutes to listen to music before work or how grateful you are to have a car in the first place. Notice the scenery out the windows that you normally zip by so quickly you don’t get to appreciate it.
You can totally shift your perspective if you work to see an experience you can’t stand in a different light. This will help you see that you are ultimately in control of your thoughts and mindset, and that road rage (or whatever your vice is) might not actually be necessary after all.
An important concept in Stoicism is the dichotomy of control. Basically, there are some things in your control and some things that aren’t.
“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.” – Epictetus
When you realize that your thoughts and actions are about the only things in your control, it changes the way you see things. You start focusing on what you can change and learning to accept the things you can’t. This is an essential piece of achieving amor fati.
Are you constantly bummed about your current circumstance? Are you waiting for your life to begin, once you get that new job or that new house or meet your soulmate?
When you catch yourself complaining, you’re catching yourself practicing odio fati (hate of one’s fate) rather than amor fati. As a practice, pay attention to the times when you’re wishing things were other than they are, and try to recognize how this is preventing you from actually accepting your reality, creating a plan, and following through with it.
Seneca the Younger, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus all had quite a bit to say about accepting one's reality and embracing one's place in a rational, natural universe. Let's see what these wise, ancient men had to say about fate.
“Whatever the universal nature assigns to any man at any time is for the good of that man at that time.”
– Marcus Aurelius
“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
“Fate rules the affairs of men, with no recognizable order.”
“He does only what is his to do, and considers constantly what the world has in store for him—doing his best, and trusting that all is for the best. For we carry our fate with us —and it carries us.”
– Marcus Aurelius
“Fate leads the willing, and drags along the reluctant.”
“With what leaves us dyed indelibly by justice, welcoming wholeheartedly whatever comes— Whatever we’re assigned—not worrying too often, or with any selfish motive, about what other people say. Or do, or think.”
– Marcus Aurelius
“Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.”
“Whatever may happen to thee, it was prepared for thee from all eternity.”
– Marcus Aurelius
“Nature is pliable, obedient. And the logos that governs it has no reason to do evil. It knows no evil, does none, and causes harm to nothing. It dictates all beginnings and all endings.”
– Marcus Aurelius
“It's the great soul that surrenders itself to fate, but a puny degenerate thing that struggles.”
“Hand yourself over to Clotho voluntarily, and let her spin you into whatever she pleases.”
– Marcus Aurelius
“From this instant on, vow to stop disappointing yourself. Separate yourself from the mob. Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do -- now.”
“In short, know this: Human lives are brief and trivial. Yesterday a blob of semen; tomorrow embalming fluid, ash. To pass through this brief life as nature demands. To give it up without complaint. Like an olive that ripens and falls. Praising its mother, thanking the tree it grew on.”
– Marcus Aurelius
“Call it Nature, Fate, Fortune; all these are names of the one and selfsame God.”
“It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it—not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. It could have happened to anyone. But not everyone could have remained unharmed by it.”
– Marcus Aurelius
“So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.”
– Marcus Aurelius
If you aren't sure where to start when it comes to practicing amor fati, consider picking one of these quotes each morning and writing it on the top of a journal page. You can use the quote as a prompt and explore what it means to you and how it relates to your life.
There is a lot we can learn from the wisdom of the ancient Stoics, as they seemed to tap into a formula for living your best life even in times of great chaos.
We can’t always control what happens to us, and life is going to throw us curveballs from time to time. Sometimes a hurricane comes and rips your house off its foundation, or your boss fires you with no warning, or your wife leaves you for another man. These are brutal experiences, but you’ll find that your ability to learn from them, move on, and incorporate the event’s lessons into your life will be greatly aided by the practice of accepting and embracing your fate.
No one wants bad things to happen to them, but a person who lives a life of pure comfort has very little opportunity to grow. We need challenges and obstacles to develop as people. Though it can be difficult, it’s possible to look at the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to you as necessary, if not good.
The Stoics have plenty of advice for 21st-century humans in terms of how to live a virtuous and good life. Check out more articles about Stoicism at StoicQuotes.com.
Leave a Reply