Eternal Recurrence [Check-in 2021]

This article was written by our Youth Advisory Committee member, Nyassa, as part of a series of articles to promote the 2021 Coolminds Summer Check-In, “Art with Heart: Exploring Mental Health Through Creativity and Self-Expression”. This one-day event took place on August 14th (Saturday). To find out more, please visit our event page here:

Yuyu Kitamura’s ‘Invited In’ explores her reflections on the struggles of teenagers to connect with others during such a time where social isolation barricades many to build relationships. Making the most of our opportunities and the ability to be living to one’s fullest comes with many new limitations during the times of Covid-19. Online platforms are some of the only opportunities to stay connected, being a lifeline to continue cultivating relationships – but only if one is extremely mindful of what these platforms are capable of. Annie’s journey with Emmy exposes the deception and artificiality that can occur through online relationships, and how this has a profound impact on one’s mental health.

The thought experiment of Eternal Recurrence posed by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in one of his most eminent books, The Gay Science

“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?”

This thought experiment became known as the experiment of Eternal Recurrence, illustrating Nietzsche’s attitude in which his fundamental perceptions of life are based on a balance between tragedy and enjoyment. In essence, what Nietzsche is proposing in this thought experiment is a hypothetical situation in which you would be forced to relive your life over and over again endlessly. Every moment, as meaningful or insignificant as they may be, would be exactly the same. The question posed by this situation is as follows: Would this be something that we could endure? Are we truly satisfied with the life we are currently living so much to the point that we would be willing to live it insurmountable times more?

These considerations in regards to positive psychology are highly potent in understanding and overcoming mental health struggles. Mental health issues such as depressive disorders are often linked to long term life dissatisfaction, which can exacerbate misconstrued perceptions of one’s surroundings in addition to their relationships and self esteem. Nietzche’s assertion in the hypothetical scenario of eternal recurrence allows us to deconstruct our responses to negativity and adverse situations through prompts for reframing our mindsets – ultimately allowing us to live life more fulfillingly in the future.

What this particular experiment is trying to make us realize is that in order to achieve contentment in its fullest form possible, we must choose wholeheartedly what we think and where we find and create meaning in life. From those places, all the smallest, perceptibly trivial moments will be treated with significance and we will be able to cherish our time on what we deem to be important. In addition to emphasizing the positive aspects of life, one could consider: Are there any possible steps we could take in our lives to make us feel increasingly satisfied to relive our experiences? This could be as small as improving convenience in our everyday routines, or it could be to take advantage of life-changing opportunities available to us. Similarly to adding meaning to significant aspects of our lives, it is also crucial to take further opportunities to participate in things we may have overlooked in the past. When factors like fear of change or perceiving consequential obstacles restrict our desire to take chances, Nietzche’s question can be interpreted as a reminder to make the most of our opportunities.

While the premise of a demon forcing us into an impenetrable cycle of recurrence can seem absurd and irrational, in reality, we may also be placed in situations where we lose the ability to wield full control over our lives and make decisions. Many around the world are living in conditions of fear, danger and oppression by society. Others may be suffering from physical and mental afflictions that restrict fundamental aspects of one’s lives. Although it seems simple to prompt one to make the most of their experiences, these hindrances barricade many from doing so, whether it be on a mental or physical level. Keeping a sense of gratitude if we are not in these situations, as well as having an awareness of those that are, Nietzche’s thought experiment can allow us to reflect on how we create the most fulfilling lives for ourselves.

“The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly” (Nietzsche). Ultimately, it is impossible to be completely satisfied with what we do. Naturally, we improve ourselves based on personal dissatisfaction, and the root of this dissatisfaction is dependent on our place in time and space – specific to each individual. However, forthcomings do not necessarily have to be considered as imperfections, as their incorporation into our lives and learnings from overcoming them are critical in self-improvement and being more conscious in future situations. Through the lens of dealing with a mental health struggle, reconciling with one’s life in the present and maintaining a positive world view can be extremely difficult. Whether it be insecurity in oneself, catastrophizing the trivial or worrying about our relationships, we must recognize that perfection is essentially unattainable. The purpose of this experiment is not to evoke a moral crisis, but to make one more accepting and mindful of interpretations of their surroundings, interactions and judgements. Doing so would give the same amount of satisfaction as taking that extra step further to make the “right” choice. 

In the words of Nietzsche: “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” We must find our own balance, and find what systems in our lives bring the most happiness. Nietzsche believed in the concept of Amor Fati – a love of one’s fate. We must learn to love even the most undesirable situations; that is a power that is just as important as developing the “perfect” and most satisfying lives. At the same time, why sell away our precious time to mediocrity and conformity? Before fate strikes us, we must guide it to give us the most desirable outcome. Only we can find compromise between the two, and in doing so will cultivate a balanced world view. 

So now, what are you going to do to live more consciously? If this life will be an endless cycle of recurrence, would you have done anything differently?