A couple of weeks ago I read this column in the Guardian (in all fairness, I saw it on FB, but it was originally posted in the Guardian 😛 ) about living with no regrets by adopting a motto inspired by Nietzsche: Amor Fati, as opposed to the world most tattooed Latin phrase attributed to Horace: Carpe Diem. I shared the article on my own wall and got some strong reactions to it, which helped me rethink what I had read and ultimately, write this blog.
The friends that reacted to the post had fully embraced the YOLO-mentality and didn’t like to see it being criticized. For them it wasn’t just a phrase. It was a way of healing. A way of life. The yellow brick road. A lesson they needed to embrace to be able to enjoy life, live in the moment, value the small things and let go of the petty ones. You catch my drift. Totally inspirational stuff. You know I love it.
So yes, I guess I can imagine it must sting when someone says living by the motto carpe diem is nothing more than “a desperate, panicky effort to avoid future sadness”.
My friend responded to this by pointing out that she wasn’t making decisions based on panicky fear but was actually applying it as “an accurate way of dealing with and solving current sadness”. I guess that’s a fair point.
But all though the way Oliver Burkeman put it into words in this column may rub some “carpe diem”-followers the wrong way, he did win me over for this new road to happiness.
He recaps carpe diem as follows:
According to this philosophy [of carpe diem], you should always take the plunge and quit your stultifying job; ask that person on a date; or (in the lower reaches of yolo culture) empty a carton of milk over your head and post the video on YouTube, all to forestall an old age full of stinging regrets. I can’t be alone in finding this all rather stressful, not least because regret seems inevitable: choosing any path always means rejecting others. So how to choose? We’re glibly told you regret the things you don’t do, not the ones you do. But this is meaningless, since any bold choice can always be rephrased as a timid one. By leaving your marriage, you opted not to discover what might happen if you’d bravely stuck it out.
And presents Amor fati like this:
Amor fati is all about living with no regrets, but not in the modern way. Carpe diem means making daring decisions, so as not to feel regret later on, whereas amor fati means (among other things) learning to love the choices you’ve already made, daring or not. After all, if a given aspect of life is truly “necessary”, refusing to embrace it means rejecting reality. And what could be more truly necessary than the past, which has already happened and can’t be undone?
I actually don’t think you need to choose between these two life mottos, as one encourages you to make the best of now and the other to love what has already been. They are both focused on having no regrets and I think both are valuable lessons to live by.
The only thing that I don’t like about this Nietzsche-based phrase is that it includes the word “fate”. Not a big fan of that one, as it implies things are predestined. People that have resigned themselves to have sucky lives because “that’s just how it is”, deserve a serious talking to or maybe even a kick up their behinds to knock some carpe diem into them.
I had already been applying amor fati in my life, in the sense that my average state of being is pretty much “content”. Sometimes I say to myself that I have an awesome guardian angel because nothing ever really goes wrong in my life but in reality I think that’s not even true. Things do go wrong. I am clumsy and forgetful, so things break or get lost. I just never really let it get to me. I seize every day and am totally fine with things totally blowing up in my face, all though again, I couldn’t really name an occasion when things actually did go miserably wrong. Is there even a thing as wrong? Things just evolve, no need to give it a plus or minus sign.
So to summarize it in a really sappy conclusion: Seize the day and value every step you have taken to get here.