Friedrich Nietzsche is often considered a nihilist due to his harsh criticisms of Christianity. However, calling the philosopher such is far from the truth.
Nietzsche was well aware that life without meaning comes with very dangerous consequences. In the most extreme examples, these can be seen both in the Russian gulags and the Nazi’s concentration camps.
Of course, finding the meaning to life wasn’t easy for the man who claimed “God is dead and we killed him.” However, he did manage to share some insight as to how we can develop meaningful lives even when we no longer hold true to traditional religious values.
Throughout this blog, we’re going to explore Nietzsche’s way of developing a meaning for life. From there, we’re going to see how we can apply this meaning in our own lives. At the end, we invite you to share your thoughts.
The Three Schools of Thought
Nietzsche’s main concern when it came to his philosophy as a whole was to develop a framework for meaning in a world that:
- Was experiencing a decline in Christian values along with other religions
- Felt more and more meaningless due to this decline
Without religion, there is no destination for our lives. Though it’s not true of all, many religions hold the belief that, after death, our souls transcend into heaven. This belief is what kept people going for centuries.
Some have turned to evolution for the sake of discovering meaning. But the unfortunate truth is, evolution only seems to suggest that life is nothing more than survival. Possibly, a long and tired race to promote the best genetics, but nothing more.
We can’t rely on evolution as we’re looking for something in the present. Something we can grasp today and claim for it to have meaning.
Psychotherapies have also looked into this matter – without the bias of religion – and discovered there are three schools of thought that dominate most individuals. These are:
- The will to pleasure (initially inspired by Sigmund Freud)
- The will to meaning (initially inspired by Viktor Frankl)
- The will to power (initially inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche)
If you’ve ever read Nietzsche, then you’re already aware that much of his work revolves around the will to power. And for good reason.
The Will to Power
Though there’s a lot of debate over Nietzsche’s writing, one thing remains clear. He believed the will to power was a master over oneself, the environment, and relationships.
He believed this desire to be so strong, it controlled all of our behaviors.
His idea was that a meaningful life was one of which strives towards this will to power – that struggles in pride to overcome oneself.
The biggest issue when it comes to interpreting this concept is too many people attach it to politics, war, and oppression. Nietzsche’s ideas go much deeper than this.
For example, if you can overcome procrastination, you may be able to get that side hustle accomplished. Or, if you can finally overcome your fear of rejection, you may be able to ask out that woman you’ve been eyeing for a few months now.
There’s a lot of ways of looking at the will to power. Especially, when we start contributing it to our own lives.
The Value in Overcoming Ourselves
By overcoming ourselves, we hold more than just the potential to make our lives better. We hold the potential to make the lives of those around us better as well.
In accordance with Nietzsche, our ideal in life is to strive towards self-overcoming – whatever that may mean to us. If we can master this art, then our lives will slowly, but surely, develop meaning.
However, in order to even do this, we must first have a vision as to what our more advanced self is. For without that meaning, self-overcoming has no aim.
For each of us, this vision is going to look profoundly different. One person may desire to become fearless in their career while another may find more meaning in developing more responsibilities with his family.
The truth is, there is no limit to this vision. Hell, it even holds the capacity to change over time as we ourselves naturally mature and develop new ideas.
What’s important to remember is this isn’t something that all-so-suddenly happens. This is a gradual effort that develops over the entirety of one’s life. It’s the journey of living life and discovering its meaning.
We all have goals we’re working towards. Usually, these are represented in a material manner – such as a better position in our careers, getting married and starting a family, or finally obtaining the house we’ve had our eyes on.
However, very little do we consider the things within ourselves that’s stopping us from obtaining that goal. That’s just what Nietzsche wanted us to begin considering – what is it about us that is preventing our ideals.
You Can’t Avoid Suffering
The primary reason most people don’t consider overcoming themselves is because they’re hyper-focused on their sufferings.
Suffering can take a few different forms in one’s life. It can be a small hurdle – like breaking a bone or having to replace you laptop after it breaks. Or it can be something larger – something persistent – such as doubting your own abilities or consistent failure in your career.
Whatever the case may be, there is no avoiding these events. Suffering is a part of the equation when it comes to overcoming ourselves.
Many modern nihilists have gotten the idea that due to suffering, there is no purpose to the human condition. However, Nietzsche was more optimistic when it came to suffering. He saw pain as something that made us more powerful.
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”Friedrich Nietzsche
With that said, if you’re willing to welcome pain into your life and, more importantly, to learn from it – then it’s not really pain your experiencing. Rather, you’re fueling yourself to overcome your own inabilities.
Nietzsche was a profound thinker and, as with any profound thinker, is often misinterpreted by modern intellectuals. Though his ideas appear nihilistic on the surface, he was really trying to tell us to discover our own meanings.
Whatever they may be.
Whether you’re a religious believer or not, it can be extremely beneficial to consider what Nietzsche was trying to say here. To discover the aspects of yourself that may be holding you back from the person you dream to become.
What are your thoughts when it comes to Nietzsche’s ideas of the meaning to life? Do you agree with him or do you have your own ideas?
We’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below.
Featured Image by Nicholas Santoleri (available for purchase)