Nietzsche Illuminated What We Often Forget About Happiness

Growing up in the middle class, I don’t know what true suffering is. I don’t even know what its apparent opposite, happiness, is.

I don’t know what it’s like to be fighting for survival as my family ponders where our next meal is coming from. Money was never an issue for my family.

Like many suburban children, we take those things for granted. Because of this, we assume that things will be handed to us. Among these things is happiness. In the fairyland of childhood, happiness, I assumed, was a given. What I didn’t know was how to get it.

Maybe this guy, Friedrich Nietzsche, will help me.

Nietzsche Went Insane, So Why Turn to Him for an Answer?

“Happiness is the feeling that power increases — that resistance is being overcome.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ

That’s why.

The dude wrote some pretty smart things.

This quote echoes in alignment with psychology, neuroscience, and spirituality.

What is this resistance?

As Steven Pressfield puts it in The War of Art, “Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt.”

Resistance comes in the face of doing the thing that favours delayed gratification. And delaying gratification means suffering in the moment for some reward in the future.

As you overcome resistance, you incrementally reap some of these rewards.

Then, you get that power Nietzsche describes as happiness.

The Paradox of Happiness

The prevailing notion of happiness I learned as a child is that happiness is the absence of suffering.

The paradox is that suffering is the opposite of happiness, yet, is also the precondition for it.

No one told me this in school. But in my being, I knew it. Every test I studied tirelessly for and did well on was evidence that suffering comes before happiness and that happiness is fleeting.

I just needed Nietzsche to put it into words.

Or maybe someone more modern and less mustachy…

“You experience joy as a consequence of positing a goal and then noting progress towards the goal”

Jordan Peterson, Psychologist and Public Intellectual

Or how about the classic bearded one…

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 16: 24–25

To take up your cross daily and deny yourself is to forgo immediate pleasure in favour of delayed happiness. When Jesus says “lose your life for him to find it”, he doesn’t mean literal death. He means the death of your small, lowercase “s”, self in favour of your highest nature.

“In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favour of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our high nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.”

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Ironically, Nietzsche said the same thing that Jesus said. Maybe he didn’t realize that God was alive in him after all. And to write like he did had to be met with resistance.

You don’t become an influential writer without it.

Achieving Happiness

There is no step-by-step plan. But since the internet loves them, here I go:

  1. Set a goal worth suffering for.
  2. Track and note your incremental progress — often the feeling of progress elicits the joy molecules in your brain.
  3. When you achieve happiness, remember that all states are transient and move on to the next goal.

Achieving happiness isn’t a feeling that lasts. Clinging to past sources of happiness will turn sour. Seeking happiness for its own sake bears no fruit.

Therefore, it is best to be process-focused and detached from the outcome.

Detachment from ALL outcomes is essential. I couldn’t tell you how many times I tried to recreate past sources of happiness until I realized it couldn’t be done. Nostalgia is good, but reliving moments is reserved for the time traveller.

Bringing it All Together In Flow

If you haven’t felt flow before, you’re missing out.

Flow is when your whole being is meshed with an activity. The activity has to be at the sweet spot of challenging but not too challenging. Popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow leaves you “feeling more “together” than before, not only internally but also concerning other people and the world in general.”

Since flow requires challenge, it is also met with the very same resistance that Nietzsche talks about. Therefore, the more you exist in flow whilst overcoming challenges, the happier you are!

Sometimes I am met with suffering and choose to fold.

I chose to meet the challenge with immediate gratification and do something easier than the task my being was meant for.

Other times, I remember the greats. I remember them because they suffered and led integrated, happy lives as a result. How are they so happy?

Before I learned about the paradox of happiness, I didn’t have an answer…

And thanks to Nietzsche, now I do.

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Turning my insights here into action — because perception doesn’t change without practice!

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