Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence, a Litmus Test for the Quality of your Life

What would it mean if you could say yes to everything that has happened in your life? Not being a foolhardy yes-person, but rather accepting things as they have been, being positive about the ups and downs in your life.

What would your life be like if you could not only accept that, but revel in it? What if you could live your life as if every moment mattered enough to live it on repeat?

What if you could say yes to your life in a profound way, and really love even the most terrible of moments? Would you want to do that? What would it do for your life if you could say yes in this way? How would it change the way you live your life?

These ultimately are the questions that Nietzsche wants us to ask about our lives. He lays eternal recurrence out as a litmus test of sorts for the quality of our lives.

What Is Eternal Recurrence?

Nietzsche famously writes about eternal recurrence in The Gay Science aphorism 341 titled “The Greatest Weight”, “What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?

Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine’? If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, ‘Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?’ would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life?”

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Gay Science; with a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. Translated by Walter Arnold Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1974, 273

In other words, eternal recurrence is the idea that our lives will be repeated endlessly: every pain, every joy, every moment of boredom or excitement.

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