Choices: The world is what it is. The things that happen to us, are what they are. People will do what they do.
A huge source of unhappiness, in my opinion, is the inability most of us have is accepting the ups and downs of life and the choices that result from these. In other words, making a choice to accept things as they are, not how we want them to be. Not expressing any judgement, when we experience something we don’t particularly like. Not worrying about the choices we’ve made.
In this article, I’ll explore the idea of Amor Fati, what it meant in a Stoic context and how it can help us to be happier.
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so — Shakespeare, Hamlet
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Choices and Human Nature
It’s just human nature that we all want certain things in life to be different, most of the time, better. But I think that the cause of this unhappiness isn’t about wanting something to be different. After all we made a choice, we made a judgement, a decision to not like it in the first place. Rather than saying, “this isn’t bad or good, it just is”, we linked a desired outcome to an expectation.
In reality something is only good or bad because we judged it as such. An alternative way of thinking is to accept things as just the way they are. Embrace the way things actually are: Amor Fati.
Amor fati is “love of fate” or “love of one’s fate”. This is an attitude where you accept that everything that happens in life, including suffering and loss, as a fact of life. This acceptance does not prevent an attempt at change or improvement. It is similar to what Nietzsche means by the concept of “eternal recurrence“. This is a sense of contentment with your life and an acceptance of it. So much so that you could live exactly the same life, in all its details, over and over for all eternity.
Epictetus suggested something similar in Enchiridion of Epictetus Ch. VIII:
“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.” — as quoted in Pierre Hadot (1998), The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, p. 143.
Marcus Aurelius pondered this concept too in Meditations IV.23:
“All that is in accord with you is in accord with me, O World! Nothing which occurs at the right time for you comes too soon or too late for me. All that your season’s produce, O Nature, is fruit for me. It is from you that all things come: all things are within you, and all things move toward you.” — as quoted in Hadot (1998), p. 143.
Fig Trees and Foreclosures
So why not try to apply the concept of amor fati to whatever choices you make? The following quotes provide some guidance:
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
“I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable–if I want to be any kind of grown-up, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.”
David Foster Wallace elaborates on how to approach choices in the video below:
Both of these quotes show that past choices are done, and you can’t change them. Be grateful that you had a choice to make in the first place, to learn from the experience, regardless of the outcome itself. Choices are almost always “good enough” and are never perfect. When you catch yourself mulling over past choices, realize that you are comparing your choices to an ideal. If you let go of these perfect ideals you begin to embrace a wider range of reality.
Having some regrets are part of life but by identifying the cause of regrets, and embracing the span of reality, we can learn to be satisfied with our choices. We become happier with the past and happier in the present moment.
Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t try to change things. But change should come from the perspective of accepting things are they are. Then enjoying and learning from the process of change. Accept that the world is just what it is.
Continue to try your best. Continue to try to be kind and to help other people. Continue to try to make a positive difference.
But be mindful of using judgements to wish for different choices than to the ones which you’ve already made in the past. Choices which now fall outside of your control. Accept these, after all by doing this is may lead to unexpected and welcome present and future outcomes.
Do you get hung up on past choices? Do you use the concept of Amor Fati? Please leave a comment below: