A Formula for Happiness

philosophy, Nietzsche, happiness, the stoics, good life, eudaimonia

We all want to be happy. Ancient philosophers like Aristotle, the Stoics and Epicurus believed that “our reasons for action arise from our interest in [eudaimonia or] a happy life” (LeBar 2020). The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental source of motivation and a primary justification for acting.   

While most of us identify happiness or the good life as our main goal, we nevertheless possess at best only a vague notion of what it means to be happy. We no doubt want to be happy, but we lack a clear sense of what a happy life looks like. Without a clear understanding of what it means to be happy, we end up making choices based on misguided, flawed assumptions.

Imagine, for example, a person who is bad with money. This individual might assume that his unhappiness, his suffering, is caused by his financial insecurity. The connection between money and happiness probably seems obvious to him in his situation. He believes his money troubles cause his suffering, and he imagines that he would be happy if he could overcome this one obstacle.

When we are unhappy, we tend to focus on one thing, whatever aspect of our situation is most dissatisfactory. We wrongly assume that we would be happy if we fixed our main source of dissatisfaction. Whether it is a relationship, a job/career, our physical health…we tell ourselves – “Once I fix x, then I’ll be happy.” Perhaps such a response to unhappiness is understandable, but it oversimplifies matters and causes us to miss the mark.  

happiness, Nietzsche, philosophy, self help, motivation

“Formula for our happiness: a yes, a no, a straight line, a goal…”


Nietzsche, like the ancient philosophers before him, valued happiness. He recognized that we need to define the terms of our life, we need to get clear about what matters to us. When Nietzsche says that the formula for happiness is “a yes, a no, a straight line, a goal…”, he emphasizes the importance of choice. We affirm our values in our choices. A choice is an expression of who we are and what matters to us.

When we use our “yes” and “no” we exercise our agency. Society teaches us to be agreeable, amenable, to conform—it teaches us to say “yes” to social norms, values, and practices and “no” to self-expression and realization. When we say “yes” to fit in, to conform, we say “no” to ourselves, we say “no” to expressing our own values. Happiness therefore involves a “yes” and a “no,” because we can only be happy when we identify what matters to us, what we value, and live in a way that affirms our values.

If we take choice seriously, we exercise our agency. When we know what matters to us, what’s important, we can live accordingly. We can walk our own path, one that is clear before us because we know who we are. In Nietzsche’s happiness formula, “a straight line” suggests having a clear direction, a clear path, because one knows oneself.

“the basic fact of the human will…it needs a goal—and it would sooner will nothingness than not will.”


The final component of Nietzsche’s formula is the importance of a goal. A goal can be a unifying force, a means by which we make sense of and understand everything else in our lives. Our goals allow us to prioritize, to justify our decisions and choices, and to live without the fear of regret. A goal is the expression of our highest values, and through these pursuits we create ourselves and live our own lives.

Thanks for reading.

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Please check out these related articles: The Only Proof of Strength, The Habit of Thinking, The World We Create, Perspective – In pursuit of truth, Accepting Death as a Part of Life, Comparisons & Mistakes We Make, Defining a Life Project, and Reason & Autonomy – Kant’s Ethics

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