If We Have Our Own ‘Why’ of Life, We Shall Get Along With Almost Any ‘How’

Friedrich Nietzsche? Viktor E. Frankl? Thomas Common? Anthony M. Ludovici? Walter Kaufmann? R. J. Hollingdale? Ilse Lasch?

Dear Quote Investigator: Life can be aggravating and even agonizing. Yet, a steady internal purpose helps to make difficulties endurable together with the thought that happiness and pleasure will someday return. Here is an apposite adage:

One who has a ‘why’ to live for can endure almost any ‘how’.

This notion has been attributed to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1889 Friedrich Nietzsche published “Götzen-Dämmerung; oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophirt” (“Twilight of the Idols, or, How to philosophize with a hammer”) which included a section called “Sprüche und Pfeile” (“Maxims and Arrows”). The following statement was included. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mit einem Ziele. — Hat man sein warum? des Lebens, so verträgt man sich fast mit jedem wie? — Der Mensch strebt nicht nach Glück; nur der Engländer thut das.

This statement has been translated into English in several different ways during the ensuing decades. Here is a rendering by Thomas Common which appeared in an 1896 edition of Nietzsche’s work: 2

When one has one’s wherefore of life, one gets along with almost every how.—Man does not strive after happiness; the Englishman only does so.

Viktor E. Frankl did employ a version of the adage, but he credited Nietzsche. Below are additional selected citations.

Here is a rendering into English by Anthony M. Ludovici which appeared in a 1911 edition: 3

If a man knows the wherefore of his existence, then the manner of it can take care of itself. Man does not aspire to happiness; only the Englishman does that.

Walter Kaufmann of Princeton University offered the following translation in “The Portable Nietzsche”: 4

If we have our own why of life, we shall get along with almost any how. Man does not strive for pleasure; only the Englishman does.

R. J. Hollingdale presented the following translation: 5

If we possess our why of life we can put up with almost any how, — Man does not strive after happiness; only the Englishman does that.

In 1946 Viktor E. Frankl published in German his influential book about his experiences in a concentration camp. The most popular English title for this work is “Man’s Search for Meaning”. The following passage is from part one which was translated into English by Ilse Lasch: 6

As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,” could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts regarding prisoners.

A slightly different version appeared in part two of Frankl’s book. Nietzsche received credit again: 7

There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” I can see in these words a motto which holds true for any psychotherapy.

In conclusion, Friedrich Nietzsche should receive credit for the words he published in German in 1889. Several renditions into English have been crafted by different translators. Viktor E. Frankl did use the saying, but he credited Nietzsche.

Image Notes: Illustration of a question mark with a shadow showing an exclamation point from geralt at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Andrea Campbell whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Ralph Keyes who examined this question in his book “The Quote Verifier”. He pointed to “Twilight of the Idols” and “Man’s Search for Meaning”.)

Notes:

  1. 1889 (catalog date), Title: Götzen-Dämmerung; oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophirt, Author: Friedrich Nietzsche, Edition: Zweite Auflage (Second Edition), Chapter: Sprüche und Pfeile (Proverbs and Arrows), Quote Page 2, Publisher: C.G. Naumann, Leipzig. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1896, The Case of Wagner: Nietzsche Contra Wagner, The Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist by Friedrich Nietzsche, Translated by Thomas Common, Section: The Twilight of the Idols, Chapter: Apophthegms and Darts, Quote Page 100, H. Henry and Company, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  3. 1911, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Edited by Dr. Oscar Levy, Volume 16 of 18, The Twilight of the Idols, Translation by Anthony M. Ludovici, Chapter: Maxims and Missiles, Quote Page 2, The Macmillan Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  4. 1976 (1954 and 1968 Copyright), The Portable Nietzsche by Friedrich Nietzsche, Translation by Walter Kaufmann (Princeton University), Section: Twilight of the Idols or, How One Philosophizes with a Hammer, Chapter: Maxims and Arrows, Quote Page 468, The Viking Press, New York. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1979 (1968 Translation Copyright), Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ by Friedrich Nietzsche, Translation by R. J. Hollingdale, Section: Twilight of the Idols or How to Philosophize with a Hammer, Chapter: Maxims and Arrows, Quote Page 23, Penguin Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  6. 2004 (1959 Copyright) (1946 First German Publication), Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, Preface by Gordon W. Allport, Part One translated by Ilse Lasch, Part One: Experiences in a Concentration Camp, Quote Page 84, Rider: An Imprint of Ebury Press, Random House, London. (Verified with scans)
  7. 2004 (1959 Copyright) (1946 First German Publication), Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, Preface by Gordon W. Allport, Part One translated by Ilse Lasch, Part Two: Logotherapy in a Nutshell, Quote Page 109, Rider: An Imprint of Ebury Press, Random House, London. (Verified with scans)