- Freedom in Thought
- Nietzsche - Live A Life That You Would Want to Live Again
Nietzsche - Live A Life That You Would Want to Live Again
The Eternal Return
In The Gay Science, Nietzsche gives us a thought experiment with which to judge whether we are living a good life or not. He calls it “the greatest weight,” and its central concept is commonly referred to as The Eternal Return. It goes like this. A demon approaches us one night and says that we’ll have to repeat every moment of our life for all of eternity, in the same sequential order. So our existence becomes nothing but a continuous repetition of the same actions and outcomes for all of eternity. And according to Nietzsche, our response to that realization would determine whether or not we are living a good life. He wrote,
So according to Nietzsche, a good life is one that we would want to live again, a life that we would willingly and gladly repeat for all of eternity without omitting a single thing.
I believe the reason Nietzsche says that a good life passes the test of eternal repetition is because the things that are truly good in life are things that we willingly repeat. Eating, sleeping, and breathing are obvious examples. We repeat these things every day without getting tired of them, because they are truly good for us. We never get tired of repeating them. In keeping with this logic, if we live a life that we would voluntarily repeat over and over again, it would would be full of moments that are truly good.
So Nietzsche’s thought experiment forces us to reflect on the moments that make up our life and judge whether they are truly good. If we had to relive this moment again in a future life, would we do it? Is this moment necessary for our growth and development? Or could it be swapped out for another moment? The goal is to live a life where every moment, regardless of whether it was filled with pain or joy, was necessary to create a beautiful whole that we would want to experience again and again for all of eternity.
But what constitutes a beautiful life looks different to every individual, so rather than giving us a general solution, Nietzsche’s thought experiment forces us into a space of deep, personal introspection—introspection about our own personal values. For some people, a life of strenuous daily workouts that eventually results in an attractive physique is really meaningful and worth living again and again for all of eternity. For others, that’s their vision of what hell looks like. There’s no single life that passes the test of the eternal return, but rather, we are asked to create a life that could pass it in our own eyes.
To create a life that passes the test of the eternal return, I suggest that we ask ourselves one question: is this moment helping me reach my highest potential? This is a question that no one can answer for us. We must answer it for ourselves, and our answer will be decisive in determining whether we are living a life that we would want to repeat for all of eternity.
If we lived a life where every moment was dedicated to helping us reach our highest potential, we would reach the end of our life feeling that we gave it everything that we had, that we used all the potential that we had, that we had nothing more to give to the world. As a result, there would be nothing for us to regret about our life: we had lived life as fully as we could. And if a life is lived fully, it’s likely one that we would be willing to live again. And if we would be willing to live our life again, then it passes the test of the eternal return: it’s a good life.
So by using Nietzsche’s test of the eternal return, by thinking about the moments of our life as an endless circle, we can enter an introspective and reflective space about our own personal values. We can ask ourselves, “is this moment helping me reach my highest potential?” And by orienting every moment in our life towards reaching our highest potential, we live a full life, a life in which there are no regrets. And when we live a life without regrets, we can look back at it and decide that it would be worth living again and again. And when we decide that a life is worth living again and again, it passes Nietzsche’s test of the eternal return. And when our life passes the test of the eternal return, it is, in our own eyes, a good life.