Nietzsche - Happiness Comes from Getting Stronger

According to Friedrich Nietzsche, happiness is progress towards a goal. In Twilight of the Idols, he wrote,

“Formula of my happiness: a Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal…”

Nietzsche, F. (2003). Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ (R. J. Hollingdale, Trans.). Penguin Books.

A goal is what we say yes too, and by giving one thing a resounding ‘yes’, we say no to something else. Saying yes to being fit means saying no to being lazy. And if we can move in a straight line towards our goal, according to Nietzsche, that’s happiness. In The Antichrist, he wrote,

“What is happiness? - The feeling that power increases - that a resistance is overcome.”

Nietzsche, F. (2003). Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ (R. J. Hollingdale, Trans.). Penguin Books.

Every goal comes with obstacles, and obstacles represent resistances, and according to Nietzsche, overcoming resistance is what makes us happy.

But the masses believe that happiness lies in pleasure, comfort, and acquiring things from the world—or in other words, avoiding resistance. They believe happiness lies in money, status, wealth, vacations, romantic partners, fine dining, luxury goods, and so on. For the masses, happiness depends on how much you can avoid suffering and discomfort.

But Nietzsche believed that happiness came from overcoming suffering and discomfort—from increasing our strength. Happiness comes from overcoming ourselves, from overcoming who we were yesterday. Happiness is the feeling, the moment, of becoming stronger.

Nietzsche’s view of happiness makes more sense once we understand the goal of his entire philosophical project: to create the Superman. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, when talking about the Superman, his ideal vision of a perfect organism, Nietzsche said,

“In truth, man is a polluted river. One must be a sea, to receive a polluted river and not be defiled. Behold, I teach you the Superman: he is this sea, in him your great contempt can go under.”

Nietzsche, F. (2003a). Thus Spoke Zarathustra (R. J. Hollingdale, Trans.). Penguin Books.

And in Ecce Homo he writes,

“…how he, a spirit bearing the heaviest of destinies, a fatality of a task, can none the less be the lightest and most opposite…”

Nietzsche, F. (2004). Ecce Homo (R. J. Hollingdale, Trans.). Penguin Books.

And in Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, Walter Kaufmann, an expert on Nietzsche, wrote,

“In terms of health: Nietzsche—though he does not use exactly these expressions—defines health not as an accidental lack of infection but as the ability to overcome disease…Even physiologically one might measure health in terms of the amount of sickness, infection, and disease with which an organism can deal successfully.”

Nietzsche, F. (2013). Nietzche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (W. Kaufmann, Trans.). Princeton University Press.

Taking all of these statements together, we get a clearer picture of what the Superman, Nietzsche’s ideal organism, is like. The Superman is someone who cannot be polluted, weighed down, or infected in anyway. His greatness, in other words, is measured by his strength, by his ability to overcome any form of resistance, not by his ability to hide from resistance. In a sense, he is omnipotent, unable to be restricted in anyway. He is God become Man, or perhaps, Man become God.

For Nietzsche, happiness is the road to the Superman. While no living human could become a Superman, he could become a bridge to the Superman, and his happiness consists in that. And to become bridges to the Superman, we must shape ourselves in his image. We must become the strongest version of ourselves, but becoming the strongest version of ourselves is something of a paradox, because in order to achieve strength, we have to confront our weaknesses. To be able to withstand resistance, we first have to face resistance. That’s why, in the Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche wrote,

“From the military school of life. — What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

Nietzsche, F. (2003). Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ (R. J. Hollingdale, Trans.). Penguin Books.

And in The Gay Science he wrote,

“For believe me: the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is—to live dangerously!”

Nietzsche, F. (1974). The Gay Science (W. Kaufmann, Trans.). Random House Inc.

To live a happy life, to eventually give birth to the Superman, we, as a species, have to constantly overcome ourselves, our weaknesses, our fears, our anger, our lack of discipline, and all of our other shortcomings.

So we can either live as the masses do, finding happiness in acquiring things, in living comfortably, and seeking pleasure, or we can live as Nietzsche suggests, finding happiness in overcoming ourselves. The benefit of Nietzsche’s path is that the happiness it offers us is unconditional: we can achieve it in every moment. Every moment offers us an opportunity to overcome ourselves. Even if the entire world was against us, if everyone had their torches and pitchforks raised against us, if our bodies were breaking down and we were becoming physically weak, if we no longer had strength to change our situation, we can overcome it all by simply accepting it. Rather than viewing the negative circumstances of our life as victims, as something we are forced to undergo, we can voluntarily say ‘yes’ to it all, we can voluntarily accept and will it. And by accepting and willing the present moment, regardless of what it is, we transcend victimhood. Even if the world threw us into prison, the moment we voluntarily accept and desire to be in that prison, we become free. Our souls cannot be shackled. By accepting and willing the present moment, we exercise our psychological or spiritual strength, which is the type of strength that really matters most in the end. As Nietzsche wrote in Ecce Homo,

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one want nothing to be other than it is, not in the future, not in the past, not in all eternity. Not merely to endure that which happens of necessity, still less to dissemble it…but to love it…”

Nietzsche, F. (2004). Ecce Homo (R. J. Hollingdale, Trans.). Penguin Books.

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