What Is Fatalism?

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What Is Fatalism?

Fatalism is the belief that events are predetermined by fate or destiny, and that humans cannot do anything to change them.

Fatalists believe that everything that happens has already been decided by some higher power, and there is nothing we can do to change it. This can have a number of effects of someone's outlook. On the one hand, fatalism can be positive when it leads to a person's acceptance of events that are really beyond their control, so that their view is in line with reality.

In other situations, fatalism can lead to a feeling of resignation and hopelessness, as people may feel that there is no point in trying to change anything because it will not make a difference.

Another term that is sometimes used interchangeably with fatalism is determinism. This is the belief that all events are determined by causes that have already been set in motion. For example, if someone believes that all of their future is determined by their past, then they are a determinist.

History of Fatalism

The concept of fatalism has been around for many centuries and can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. One of the earliest known examples is from the philosopher Aristotle, who said “What is, necessarily is, when it is; and what is not, necessarily is not, when it is not.” This idea was later picked up by the Stoics, who believed that humans should accept what is going to happen, as it is impossible to change it.

During the Middle Ages, fatalism was often used as a way to give meaning to natural disasters or other events that could not be explained. For example, if a city was struck by a plague, it was seen as an act of God that could not be prevented.

Fatalism has also been used as a political philosophy, with some leaders using it to justify their actions. For example, Napoleon Bonaparte believed he was destined to rule the world. This belief can also be seen in some authoritarian regimes, where those in power believe that they are meant to rule, and anyone who opposes them is fighting against fate.

Signs of Fatalism

Fatalism can be seen in many different areas of life. For example, some people may have a fatalistic attitude towards their job, believing that they cannot do anything to change their situation. This can lead to them feeling unhappy and demotivated at work.

Other people may have a more general fatalistic outlook on life, believing that everything is predetermined and that they have no control over their own destiny. This can lead to them feeling hopeless and resigned, as they may feel that there is no point in trying to improve their situation.

However, fatalism can also give someone a greater sense of peace about a situation. For instance, instead of blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong in life, you can realize that you don't have control over everything and have greater compassion for yourself and others.

Types of Fatalism

Fatalism can be categorized based on the level of control that is believed to be possible. This type of distinction is typically made for determinism but can be equally applied to fatalism.

Hard fatalism reflects the belief that humans have no control over their own destiny and that everything is predetermined. This means that people believe that they cannot do anything to change the course of their life, no matter what they do.

Soft fatalism is the belief that humans have some control over their destiny, but that there are still some things that are predetermined. This means that people may believe that they can influence their own fate to some extent, but that there are still some events that are out of their control.

Moderate fatalism is the belief that humans have a significant amount of control over their own destiny, but that there are still some things that are predetermined. This means that people may believe that they can influence their own fate to a large extent, but that there are still some events that are out of their control.

Implications of Fatalism

The implications of fatalism depend on how someone uses this belief and the effects it has on their mental health.

Depending on the situation, fatalism can have either positive, negative, or neutral mental health effects.

Positive Effects of Fatalism

People can use fatalism and experience positive mental health effects. For instance, if you apply to a school and don't get in, you can believe that you did everything you could (instead of blaming yourself for not getting in). This outlook is more in line with the reality that you didn't have ultimate control over whether the school accepted you or not.

Another example is if you had a loved one who died from an illness. Instead of blaming them for not going to the doctor sooner, or blaming yourself for not knowing they were ill, you might adopt a fatalistic outlook and instead, believe that there was nothing anyone could've done to prevent it.

Releasing control in some situations can help you accept and feel a greater sense of peace about difficult things that happen in life.

You may have observed fatalism in people with religious beliefs—for instance, someone who always attributes tragic events to a higher power or who believes "everything happens for a reason." Research actually finds that fatalism is linked with higher rates of life satisfaction in people with religious beliefs than among less religious people.

Negative Effects of Fatalism

Fatalism can have negative effects as well. For instance, people who have a fatalistic outlook may be more likely to take risks such as not following road safety rules, as they may believe that it will not make a difference. Fatalism can also lead to feelings of resignation and hopelessness for cancer patients, as they may feel they have no control over their own fate or outcome.

Fatalism can also have a negative impact on mental health, as it can lead to anxiety and depression. This is because fatalistic thinking can lead to people feeling stuck in their current situation and believing that they will never be able to improve it.

If you are worried that you may have a fatalistic outlook on life, there are some things that you can do to change your thinking. For example:

  • You could try to become more aware of the things that you do have control over and focus on making positive changes in those areas.
  • You could try to challenge your beliefs about fate and destiny, and explore the possibility that you may have more control than you think.

It is important to remember that fatalism is just a belief, and it is possible to change your thinking if you want to. If you are struggling to cope with your fatalistic thinking and it's affecting your daily life, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.

Concepts Related to Fatalism

Below are some concepts that are similar to fatalism and which may be helpful to understand.

Determinism

Fatalism is often contrasted with determinism, which is the belief that while our actions may be determined by prior causes, we still have some control over them. For example, a determinist may believe that it is impossible to avoid all car accidents, but we can still take steps to reduce the likelihood of having one, such as by wearing a seatbelt.

Predestination

Fatalism is also different from predestination, which is the belief that some people are destined for salvation or damnation regardless of their actions. Predestination does not necessarily imply fatalism, as people may still have some control over their destiny.

Free Will

Fatalism and free will are two opposite concepts. Fatalism is the belief that everything is predetermined and that we have no control over our own destiny. Free will, on the other hand, is the belief that we have the power to choose our own actions and that we are not predetermined by fate or destiny.

Optimism

It is important to note that fatalism should not be confused with optimism. Optimism is the belief that good things will happen, even in the face of adversity. Fatalism, on the other hand, is the belief that everything is predetermined and that we have no control over our destiny.

A Word From Verywell

It can be a useful practice to notice how your thoughts respond to difficult or tragic life circumstances. While you can use fatalistic thinking to feel better about your situation, it's possible that fatalism has negative effects, too. It's important to remember that there is a balance in life of things we do and do not have control over. If you are finding it hard to cope with unhelpful or negative thoughts, seek help from a mental health professional.

11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."