Brain Pickings

A Noble New Year’s Resolution from Nietzsche

“I do not want to wage war with the ugly. I do not want to accuse, I do not want even to accuse the accusers… I wish to be at any time hereafter only a yea-sayer!”

Rather than an annual ritual of promises made to be broken, the best New Year’s resolutions — the ones that actually stick and transform our lives by rewiring our physical and psychological habit loops — are enduring existential aspirations of which we remind ourselves when early January makes its convenient invitation for self-transformation. Famous resolution lists — like those of Italo Calvino, Jonathan Swift, Susan Sontag, Marilyn Monroe, Woody Guthrie, and Ursula Nordstrom — certainly embody this spirit. But hardly anyone does that more beautifully than Friedrich Nietzsche in his classic 1882 treatise The Gay Science (public library) — the book he considered his most personal of all, in which his famous proclamation “God is dead” makes its first appearance.

In an entry from January of 1882 under the heading Sanctus Januarius, Nietzsche writes:

For the New Year—I still live, I still think; I must still live, for I must still think. Sum, ergo cogito: cogito, ergo sum. To-day everyone takes the liberty of expressing his wish and his favorite thought: well, I also mean to tell what I have wished for myself today, and what thought first crossed my mind this year,—a thought which ought to be the basis, the pledge and the sweetening of all my future life! I want more and more to perceive the necessary characters in things as the beautiful:—I shall thus be one of those who beautify things. Amor fati: let that henceforth be my love! I do not want to wage war with the ugly. I do not want to accuse, I do not want even to accuse the accusers. Looking aside, let that be my sole negation! And all in all, to sum up: I wish to be at any time hereafter only a yea-sayer!

A resounding secular “Amen!” to that.

Complement The Gay Science, which remains a must-read in its totality, with Nietzsche’s 10 rules for writers and his assuring case for why a fulfilling life requires embracing rather than running from difficulty.

Published January 2, 2015




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