Here is the quote from Friedrich Nietzsche:

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.

I don't quite understand it, especially this phrase almost any how. Can somebody please shed light onto the meaning?

up vote 15 down vote accepted
He who has a         WHY  to live 
can bear almost any  HOW (to live)

It's a very colloquial way of saying

He who has a         REASON  to live 
can bear almost any  MANNER  of life.

If you have a reason or purpose in life, you can endure almost any misery.

ADDED, to address orthographic issues raised in the Comments:

I have been unable to find the original edition or a critical edition online; but scholarly references appear to use this:

Hat man sein w a r u m ? des Lebens, so verträgt man sich fast mit jedem w i e ? – Der Mensch strebt nicht nach Glück; nur der Engländer thut das.

There are no quotation marks, but warum? (why?) and wie? (how?) are letterspaced. This is a common emphatic device in German orthography; Bernard Shaw was fond of it, too. Some contemporary writers follow another of Shaw's favorite uses with embedded quotations and capitalise these terms (Warum? Wie?) instead; but in German this marks them as nouns.

A translation which preserves Nietzsche's aggressive colloquialism might be:

If you have your Why? of life, you can put up with just about any How? —Man doesn't strive for happiness; only the Englishman does that.

(The last bit of snark is probably not a nationalist sneer but a joke mocking English philosopher Jeremy Bentham and his ‘felicific calculus’.)

  • does can bear almost any manner of life mean can endure any life obstacles or can live the way he wants? – Max Koretskyi aka Wizard Jul 10 '15 at 21:21
  • 2
    @Maximus- The former. bear and endure both imply hardships, while "live the way he wants" implies freedom. – Jim Jul 10 '15 at 22:14
  • Nice research! Thanks for that! – Catija Jul 10 '15 at 23:51
  • 1
    The 'why' and 'how' should really be in quotes: He who has a 'why' to live for can bear almost any 'how'. I am a native speaker, and I didn't understand what the author was trying to say until I read this answer. Given that, it's also a pretty terrible example of an English sentence for non-native speakers. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jul 11 '15 at 1:06

He who has a 'why' to live can bear almost any 'how'.

Loosely interpreted:

He who has a reason to live can bear almost any problem.

Some images of this quote indicate this as well:

enter image description here

In the example sentence, why and how are set up in a parallelism, to be understood as:

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how to live.

Like the original example, this is not actually, formally, grammatically correct. It is a poetic expression. It might be better understood written as:

He who has a why-to-live can bear almost any how-to-live.

What is "a why-to-live"? Idiomatically, "a why" is a reason, so this means a reason to live. Thus by parallelism (and this is not idiomatic) "a how" is a means, and "any how-to-live" is "any means to live".

Thus it poetically and concisely expresses the idea:

He who has a reason to live can bear almost any means of living.

Nietzsche means that a person with nothing to live for subconsciously prefers death, but someone who has something to live for (the reason WHY he continues to live) can endure almost anything (HOW to survive almost anything).

  • Welcome to ELL, Matthias. Thank you for your answer. – JavaLatte Apr 12 '17 at 16:12

Victor Frankel's, "Mans Search for Meaning" Will explain this quote absolutely. While living through Auschwitz, Frankel discovered that those victims who had meaning in their lives were far more likely to survive than those who did not.

When EVERYTHING is taken from you, leaving no possibility of any kind of normal "happiness", if you still had a sense of "why", a sense of meaning, will get you through the day.

I actually found this quote when trying to understand the importance of the simple question 'WHY' in the workplace. My interpretation of this basically - If you can understand why a thing needs to be done, your solution or 'how' will be strategic to reach the goal of why the thing needs to be done, not just doing it.

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