As one of the greatest philosophers of the 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche had an impressive amount to say on everything from politics to art to religion.
His ideas are often deep and profound, yet sometimes they are also surprisingly natural and obvious to the open-minded.
This is a thinker who is associated with nihilism and with completely deconstructing and criticizing Western European culture. It might be no surprise, then, that he became popular again during the counter-culture movements of the 1960s.
What can be a surprise, however, is how his ideas can apply to so many different aspects of your life.
So here are ten insights from Nietzsche that may very well challenge your perspective on life.
Who was Nietzsche?
This philosopher has been vilified by many different groups over the years, so it’s useful to explain a bit about his personal history to put things in perspective.
Born in Prussia in 1844, Freidrich Nietzsche was a bright student who undertook writing, poetry, and composing music as hobbies. He also studied classic languages and became interested in philosophy through them.
He became a professor and taught classical studies while also beginning to write his philosophical ideas. Later, he became an independent philosopher, publishing actively until 1889, when he suffered a mental breakdown.
Nietzsche died in 1900, and his sister inherited his unfinished works and writings.
As a German ultranationalist, she edited his work to fit her politics, thus associating him with antisemitism and nationalism, then later fascism and Nazism. However, he was explicitly opposed to these ideas in his works published during his lifetime.
He is most famous for his criticisms of European tradition and their Christian foundations.
The quotes below, however, reveal his deep reflections on a broad range of topics and ideas.
1) “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”
Here’s a quote that you’ve definitely heard, even if you never knew it came from Nietzsche.
This quote has been so widely used now that his initial meaning has been somewhat mixed up.
He never meant that we humans should look for reasons to suffer or that we should revel in suffering.
Instead, his perspective was that anyone who can turn suffering into an opportunity to learn and grow was doing well for themself.
Rather than simply sitting back and accepting suffering, he felt we should take this quote as a mantra and find ways to make it actually true.
2) “Even the most beautiful scenery is no longer assured of our love after we have lived in it for three months, and some distant coast attracts our avarice: possessions are generally diminished by possession.”
This is Nietzsche’s version of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ mixed with ‘the grass is always greener on the other side.’
Here, he reminds us of something we know all too well – wanting is often more of an influence on our behavior than having.
Nietzsche himself never married despite proposing on three different occasions to the same woman, Lou Andreas-Salomé. When asked why he wouldn’t give up on her, he said that his unrequited love was one of the most important parts of his life.
He felt that wanting and longing are incredible motivators for us that influence our behavior while reaching our goals and attaining things end our motivation.
3) “Whoever does not have two-thirds of his day for himself is a slave, whatever he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official, or a scholar.”
Nietzsche had a lot to say about slaves and masters.
He grew up during a time when there was a huge gulf between the aristocracy and the masses, groups he termed masters and slaves.
And though he wasn’t talking about actual slavery, he felt that most people enslave themselves by following a slave mentality and morality.
Here, he states clearly how he feels about working for others and how this keeps the average person from being free.
In these terms, he’s essentially criticizing modern nine-to-five jobs and provides a basic argument for why you should have a side hustle or even make that your main job.
4) “He who cannot obey himself will be commanded.”
Nietzsche’s master and slave mentality ideas continue in this quote.
But this time, he’s talking about internal and external pressures.
As we saw in the last quote, he puts most of the blame for what we might call “modern wage slavery” onto the shoulders of its victims.
Here, he’s essentially saying that you need to make yourself strong so that others can’t take advantage of you.
He felt that it was natural for powerful people to use and take advantage of weaker people.
So, the only protection against being exploited is to make yourself un-exploitable.
This includes building up the intelligence, strength, and self-discipline to help you be able to resist the influence of others and be your own person.
5) “People are always angry at anyone who chooses very individual standards for his life; because of the extraordinary treatment which that man grants to himself, they feel degraded, like ordinary beings.”
Expect to get a lot of friction for being different and doing your own thing.
If you can build yourself up so that you can get away from the influence of others and make your own rules, other people who can’t will resent you.
By seeing what you’re able to do, they feel their own inability more deeply.
When we see someone find their way out of the rat race, for example, we often feel jealousy and resentment if we’re still stuck in it, rather than just being impressed and appreciating what they were able to accomplish.
6) “The first opinion that occurs to us when we are suddenly asked about a matter is usually not our own, but only the customary one, appropriate to our caste, position, or parentage; our own opinions seldom swim near the surface.”
One way that Nietzsche saw us enslaving ourselves is in the blind adherence to the ideas and opinions of others.
And it’s true.
So many people simply regurgitate what they hear in the news or what other people talk about rather than taking the time to think deeply about topics and form their own opinions.
We also face a lot of pressure to go along with the majority and not swim against the current, even if that’s contrary to what we truly feel.
7) “He who humbleth himself wants to be exalted.”
When he wrote this line, Nietzsche intended it as a criticism of the Christian foundations of European culture.
At the time, the church taught that “the meek shall inherit the earth,” and this is what he was referring to.
But he saw this meekness as fakery.
This quote is, therefore, a warning against people who are two-faced, people who will point out their seemingly humble good deeds to actually gain prestige and respect.
8) “A strong and well-constituted man digests his experiences (deeds and misdeeds all included) just as he digests his meats, even when he has some tough morsels to swallow.”
Apologies, but that’s what Nietzsche wrote back in the 1800s when men didn’t normally include women as relevant to their philosophical ideas.
And if you’re a vegetarian, you can substitute the word “meats” with “beets” or some other veg that’s hard to chew.
But his idea still provides us with some sound advice.
It’s a statement of recognition that you need to both understand and accept all of the experiences that make you the person you are in order to be a whole person.
Rather than forgetting or leaving behind your mistakes, you should learn from them and understand that they helped to form you as much as your successes.
9) “There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.”
Speaking of what makes us up, Nietzsche used the human body as an example of the wonder of nature.
While he had no specific scientific background, he quite rightly recognized how intricate, developed, efficient, and advanced we are as biological beings.
He also felt that our minds and reasoning lag far behind and that even the smartest of us are cretins compared to the genius of nature.
10) “Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?”
For a philosopher associated with the concepts of nihilism and existential crises, this quote is surprisingly bright.
But isn’t he absolutely right that the world is filled with infinite wonders to learn about and investigate?
It shows us that Nietzsche was more complex than just a social commentator but a person with deep interests and real engagement with the world.
The ten insights from Nietzsche are just a quick window into his philosophy.
But I hope they reveal as much about his thoughts as they do about your own and help to challenge your perspectives on life.
And don’t worry – if you find Nietzsche fascinating, there’s a whole lot more where these came from!