Apollonian Dionysian Approach To Modern Living

Table Of Contents

The Apollonian-Dionysian Approach To Lifestyle Revitalisation

What I'll Be Covering..

1. Diminishing Happiness Levels

It’s clear that happiness is on the decline around the developed world. Statistics, inaccurate perhaps, but approximately true, reveal rates of mental wellbeing have plummeted. For instance, the proportion of Americans who reported feeling “very happy” dropped from about one third to less than a fifth in recent years.

Add to that, research indicating global rates of anxiety and depression have soared by nearly a third since 2020—the most significant spike ever recorded—and it’s clear that we have entered into an era marked by disappointment and disillusionment.

Share of Americans saying they're "very happy" or "not too happy" 1972—2021

This mushrooming miasma of dissatisfaction prompts us to ask a difficult question: What’s behind this decline in happiness?

Culturally, you might point to the decline of the family, collapsing marriage rates, and an empty culture of brand and commodity-worship. Economically, you could argue that decades of wage stagnation, alongside the more recent spike in inflation, have, when taken together, eroded living standards. Biologically, you need look no further than unhealthy eating habits and sky-rocketing rates of addiction.

However, these explanations don’t tell the whole story. At its heart, I believe our predicament arises from a fundamental mismatch between the dual forces that govern our existence. 

On one side, we have the Apollonian, symbolising control, reason, and discipline—qualities that bring order, structure, and predictability. On the other, we have the Dionysian, embodying chaos, spontaneity, and instinct—qualities linked to creativity, freedom, and passion.

And I believe it’s the growing incompatibility between them that in many ways is responsible for the societal, economic, and biological trends we see unfolding around us today.

2. Digital Dementia: Is Over-Socialisation Killing Our Individuality?

Barry Cunliffe notes in ‘Britain Begins‘ that human behaviour is driven by the primary desires to feed ourselves and reproduce. “Both tendencies require aggression and self-assertiveness,” he continues, “instincts that are hard-wired into our biology, but are tempered by the formation of social hierarchies to prevent total chaos.”

The fundamental concept is straightforward: Since the dawn of civilisation, human behaviour has been shaped by the ongoing tug-of-war between culture and biology. On the one hand, social structures have provided the order and reason we needed for cooperation, while our biological instincts have spurred creativity, conquest, and reproduction. This cultural-biological matrix has propelled mankind forwards, leading to remarkable achievements in science, literature, art, and innovation.

However, recent upheavals in the social landscape have disrupted this careful balance. The accelerating pace at which we’re absorbing cultural influences, particularly through smartphones and mass media, is fostering the rise of a malevolent collective consciousness. And as this pervasive “hive mind” begins to reshape individual thought and behaviour, we find ourselves becoming detached from our primal nature.

“You aspire to free heights, your soul thirsts for the stars. But your wicked instincts, too, thirst for freedom. Your wild dogs want freedom; they bark with joy in their cellar when your spirit plans to open all prisons.”

A 2023 study revealed that London now has 13.21 surveillance cameras per 1,000 people. Add to that, The Pew Research Centre reported that a subset of American teenagers now average 8 hours and 39 minutes of screen time daily. What is this device distraction doing to sense of autonomy?

Are we genuinely independent thinkers, free to make our own choices, when technological influences shape our thoughts and actions so profoundly? Or have we unknowingly become prisoners to the death grip of digital distraction?

The widespread prevalence of mental health issues in modern society
The widespread prevalence of mental health issues in modern society

We’ve all felt it—the intense pressure to conform to the prevailing norms and social conventions shaped by today’s media-driven environment. Gone are the days where we were free to follow our instincts without hesitation or second-guessing. Now, societal influences have twisted and warped our natural urges, turning us into guilt-ridden, manipulable, and tame creatures; more predictable and herd-like.   

The psychological strain this causes has profound implications for our lives. Ted Kaczynski, better known as the “Unabomber,” discussed this in his book: ‘Industrial Society and Its Future.’ He maintained that the constant struggle to conform and repress our natural instincts sets the stage for deep-seated internal conflict. The reason for this is simple: when we push our primal urges down, they don’t just vanish. Instead, they “turn inwards, against themselves,” breeding dissatisfaction with life, feelings of low self-esteem, resentment and powerlessness. 

As Kaczynski writes in 1996: “The over-socialised person cannot even experience, without guilt, thoughts or feelings that are contrary to the accepted morality; he cannot think ‘unclean’ thoughts. Thus the he is kept on a psychological leash and spends his life running on rails that society has laid down for him. In many over-socialised people this results in a sense of constraint and powerlessness that can be a severe hardship.”

The 2000 film ‘American Psycho,’ sheds light on what can happen when this dynamic goes wrong. It follows Patrick Bateman, a wealthy investment banker caught-up in the high-stakes world of finance, whose obsession with his acceptance and public image on Wall Street leads him down a dark path.

As Bateman becomes increasingly fixated on his appearance, he buries his desire to lead a life that truly matters beneath thick veils of self-deception. Rather than getting expressed, his primal desires become twisted and warped. Decades of suppression reach breaking point—culminating in a violent outburst that leaves behind a trail of dead bodies. 

In several unsettling ways, we are in our own situation, more like Patrick Bateman than we might like to admit. Reflect for a moment: Like him, we find ourselves dissatisfied, grappling with feelings of low self-esteem and resentment. The pervasive influences of the social hive mind, with its insidious creep into the private quarters of our minds, has become deeply interwoven into the fabric of our social landscape.

We now inhabit an era devoid of shared meaning, devoid of individual or collective purpose, stripped of the supportive structures of previous times. It’s hardly a surprise that some of us crack under the strain. If we perceive that we come from nowhere, and we’re heading nowhere, then community is just another liminal space, one stop on a short ride into oblivion.

And while therapeutic treatments or medications might deal with short-term symptoms, they should not become our main focus. Instead, by rethinking how we connect with our primal instincts, we can discover the magic of a life richly lived. 

3. Lessons From Greek Mythology: Apollo & Dionysus

Let’s take a moment to simplify things before we continue. Historically, mankind relied on the duality between culture and biology to drive civilisation forward. However, with the disrupting influence of technology and mass media, this delicate balance has fallen apart. Cultural influences now outweigh biological drivers and this is playing havoc with our collective mental health.

We’re at a decisive point: How do we regain balance between our instincts and rational thinking? How do we protect our mental well-being in the face of fast-paced technological and media changes? And more than all else, how do we contribute positively to the social fabric as it undergoes seismic alterations?”

Frederic Nietzsche, known for his radical ideas, suggests a return to ancient wisdom in his seminal work: The Birth Of Tragedy. We must turn our gaze back towards the early Greeks,” he writes, “those who knew how to blend the vigour of passion with the clarity of reason, and who gave clear voice to these teachings, not through abstract concepts, but in the divine forms of their mythological beings.” 

To grasp Nietzsche’s point, it’s essential that we understand the Greek gods themselves, celestial figures who embodied the cultural-biological matrix that governs our existence.

Apollo

Apollo

Apollo stands for order, truth, logic, & reason. As a symbol of illumination and enlightenment, he brings the day and banishes the night. The lyre, his chosen instrument, symbolises the beauty and elegance that emerge from disciplined practice and structured expression.
Dionysus Figure

Dionysius

Dionysus, known as the god of wine, revelry, and theatre, embodies the essence of divine intoxication and uncontrolled passion. He is a symbol of the boundless energy and ecstatic joy that can arise from surmounting fear and embracing our deepest emotions and desires.

Apollo, the most Greek of all the gods, was known as the artist, poet, and musician. His temple’s inscription, ‘everything in moderation,’ symbolises his commitment to structured discipline and calm reasoning. With his striking appearance and flowing blond hair, Apollo was the embodiment of beauty, form, and tranquillity, a celestial beacon that bathed the world in light, banishing darkness and illuminating the obscure.

This might be as imagined, but the Greeks also needed a religion of the heart, something which could excite their deepest emotional and spiritual cravings. A child of both the mortal and divine realm, Dionysus offered what Apollo did not—namely, a connection to the chaotic and primal aspects of existence.

Dionysian worship was marked by everything in excess—drunkenness, extravagant and sometimes violent feasts and people losing themselves in frenzied dances and fevered celebrations, becoming bestial in their abandon. Through Dionysus, the Greeks explored the boundaries of self, the strength of unfiltered feelings, and the inherent need for release from societal constraints. 

Although Apollo and Dionysus initially appear to be counterparts, their interwoven nature in Greek mythology hints at a deeper, more nuanced relationship. Reflecting on these myths in the 19th century, Nietzsche intuited the presence of a “great health” which he believed enabled the Greek individual to cultivate the strength required to lead a life that bordered on the magical. 

Let’s consider one such example. Seeking to create a sanctuary where the divine and human can meet, Apollo travels to Delphi on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. There he confronts the serpent guardian Python, and after a fierce battle, emerges victoriousan act widely interpreted as the ascendancy of the Olympian gods over the older earth deities.

Apollo's confrontation with the serpent Python to claim dominion over Delphi.
Apollo's confrontation with the serpent Python to claim dominion over Delphi.

Following his triumph, Apollo stakes his claim over Delphi, transforming the oracle into a centre of prophecy, order, and rational worship. Yet, Apollo’s dominion over Delphi was seasonal. During the winter, he would retreat to live among the Hyperboreans, with Dionysus stepping in to take his place. Consequently, from November to March, the site practiced Dionysian rituals, celebrating life’s primal forces.

Far from being mere rivals, this shared guardianship of Delphi symbolised the interwoven nature of chaos and control, where each force shifts and evolves into its counterpart.

And rather than advocating for a stable middle ground, the Greeks engaged fully at both ends of the spectrum. It was this oscillation, this to-and-fro movement, that created a friction. And it was this friction, this dynamic tension, that laid the foundations for a more cohesive and vibrant cultural framework, creating a dynamism that spurred Greek civilisation to new heights of creativity and artistic achievement.

and the constant flux and evolution within nature and human life.

Taken together, Apollo and Dionysus serve as powerful symbols of the human experience, reminding us of the complex nature and inherent duality within each of us. 

By combining the clear, rational qualities of Apollo with the intense, unbridled energy of Dionysus,

that opposing forces are not mutually exclusive but rather exist in dynamic tension. 

This dynamic interplay between laid the foundations for a more cohesive and vibrant society, creating a cultural dynamism where structured discipline blended seamlessly with raw passion.

By establishing clear beacons in their mental landscape, the Greeks moved between both ends of the spectrum—passion and prudence, chaos and order, nobility and savagery—and harnessed the dynamic tension this released to propel themselves into new heights of creativity and accomplishment. 

“Here was a being gene-coded to perfection. A reflection of humanity’s royal paragon. Russ bled authority without effort. And without the need for purpose or pretence. For he made barbarism a controlled trait: something noble — to be understood and mastered. Not a state of primitive regression.”

But this pas de deux between order and chaos not only concerns itself with the dualities of our nature but also speaks to the contradictions, constructions, precarities, and limitations inherent in our existence.

In simple terms, Greek mythology presents a dramatic depiction of two figures caught in an eternal dialogue between chaos and order. These characters are forced to navigate a labyrinth of different values, to make decisive choices, to align their actions in a universe of ambiguous values where nothing is definitively stable or unambiguous. 

Taken together, what Apollo and Dionysus invite is neither the blind impulsiveness of action, nor some retreat into the solitary life of contemplation, but accepting the difficulty and uncertainty of action in a world defined by ambiguity, where ‘right’ always seems to be on both sides

In today’s world where chaos and order often seem at odds, the relationship between these iconic figures reminds us that living a deep & fulfilling life comes from embracing both chaos and control—and finding the right balance in-between.

The logic being that it’s the friction between these two counterpoints that supplies the conditions needed to thrive in this world—like Summer and Winter. Eternal Summer would burn the world up. But eternal Winter would freeze it to death. It’s the fact that they oscillate between one another that allows life to grow and flourish. 

In the end, we do not know when or how, the worship of Apollo and Dionysus came together. All we are told of this momentous moment is that Orpheus, the master musician, Apollo’s pupil, reformed the violent Bacchic rites and brought them into order. 

4. The Struggle for Balance in Modern Thinking

There’s a widespread view, let’s call it “early Nietzschean,” that the relationship between Apollo and Dionysus and the forces they represent is as fundamental to civilisation as the interplay of light and shadow. Both forces are deeply embedded in our nature, influencing our decisions, behaviours, and the way in which we relate to the world. Yet, as we navigate our way through the digital corridors of the 21st century, this nuanced grasp of paradox and polarisation seems to be slipping through our fingers.  

For one thing, people today are much more monochromatic in their thinking. Those who lean towards the Apollonian mindset may seem stable and dependable on the surface, but their deep-seated affinity for rules and regulations makes them susceptible to herd mentality and group think. These followers of @apollo_life may cultivate a strong work-ethic and pragmatic approach towards life, but rarely bother to question the state media apparatus which is forever blaring down at them. 

Conversely, those who resonate with the Dionysian spirit possess great emotional intelligence and a keen ability to seize the moment and harness there imagination. And yet, without a solid foundation of structured discipline and rational thinking, followers of @Dionysian_life tend to become drawn into the fleeting pleasures and superficial gratifications that saturate modern culture. Life, for them, becomes nothing more than a series of short-term pursuits without any clear sense of direction or purpose upon which to build lasting happiness. 

And it’s also true, I think, that modern technology has subtly shifted our collective focus away from personal responsibility and growth and towards convenience and comfort. From online shopping to doorstep food delivery, everything is at our fingertips. The consequence? We stagnate. We don’t learn. We aren’t challenged. And we lead lives without passion, without drive, without ambition… without any real purpose.

"He doesn't ask her where they're going, it seems he is content to be invested with the deed or act itself. To him, she believes, the small actions and individual things count. Unlike his Father, he doesn't need to know an end-plan or an ultimate goal. Just the now and the here — tackling life one step, or one blow, at a time. He is the most disciplined man she has ever met. Entirely focused on duty, yet that focus seems to render him weightless."

We do know and this is important — that Nietzsche viewed this spiritual stagnation as deeply problematic. He argued that the rise of modern consumer culture has stripped us of the unique blend of opposing values and principles that defined the Greek psyche. In doing so, it has made us “smaller,” devoid of the tools needed to reach our fullest potential as individuals.  

Nietzsche goes onto claim, with some justification in my view, that the development of this bourgeois mindset  has grown to not only dull our emotions but prevent us from becoming active architects of our own lives — a sentiment echoed almost two centuries ago by Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still within them.”

Content in our comfortable and banally uneventful bourgeois existence, we’re devoid of the fire of passion, the spark of creativity, and the spark of reason that propelled the Greeks into an elevated mode of living. 

And indeed, this is proving to be the running theme throughout my research. When individuals, society or the world at large fail to give proper attention and consideration to both ends of the spectrum, we lose the inherent tension needed to propel us forward with passion and purpose. We morph into spineless, pleasure-seeking animals, held in perpetual thrall to our most base animalistic desires and instincts. And from this altogether more subdued state of mind we are made malleable to the rising corporate and ideological forces that seek to shape us.

 The question becomes: can we restore the civilisational conditions which engendered the remarkable Greek triumph? To answer this, we need to examine the conditions which gave birth to early Greek civilisation in the first place. 

5. The Dual Forces Behind Greek Success

“In all history, nothing is so surprising or difficult to account for as the sudden rise of civilization in Greece,” explains Betrend Russel in The History of Western Philosophy. “What they achieved in art and literature is familiar to everybody. But what they did in the purely intellectual realm is even more exceptional. They invented mathematics. They invented science and philosophy. They speculated freely without being bound in the fetters of inherited orthodoxy. The result was so astonishing that, until very recent times, men were content to gape and talk mystically about the Greek genius.” 

If you want to understand why this might be the case, you have to understand that countervailing forces were at work on the Greek mind during the sixth and fifth centuries BC. On the one hand, these were a people who were keenly aware, terribly aware, of life’s uncertainty and the imminence of death. Over and over again they emphasised the brevity and the failure of human endeavour, the passing of all that is beautiful and joyful.

Citizens, particularly young men, were brimming with physical vigour, unyielding and defiant in the face of challenges. Burgeoning civic institutions separated the best out from the masses and marked them for distinction and honours. Like the mythical Hydra, they would not be easily subdued, and they remained immune to the lure of collective ideologies.  

On the other hand, the Greeks were intellectuals. These were people who inhabited a world shaped by reason, a world sculpted by intellectual fervour. The Greek mind was free to think about the world as it pleased, to reject all traditional explanations, to disregard all that the priests taught, to search unhampered by any outside authority for the truth.

There is important line of thinking in both of Homer’s epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, that demonstrates this dual nature on the part of the hero, on the one hand weighing up the pros and cons of a line of action, and on the other hand risking himself in a terrain that is strictly unknown and incomprehensible because it is ordained by the gods. 

Achilles speeds from tent to tent, and warms his hardy Myrmidons to blood and arms. All breathing death, around their chief they stand, a grim, terrific, formidable band. Grim as voracious wolves that seek the springs; to the black fount they rush, with lolling tongue. Fire fills their eyes, their black jaws belch the gore, and, gorged with slaughter, still they thirst for more. And yet, high in the midst, there the great Achilles stands, Directs their order, and the war commands. He, loved of Jove, had launched for Ilion’s shores full fifty vessels, manned with fifty oars. Five chosen leaders the fierce bands obey, himself supreme in valour, as in sway.”

 

 

It was paradoxical thinking that prompted Anaxagoras to pioneer a reasoned approach to understanding the universe, Empedocles to explore the interactions between different elements, and Heraclitus to develop his breakthrough theory of harmony via the mingling of opposites.

“The two creative tendencies developed alongside one another, usually in fierce opposition, each, by its taunts, inciting the other to new and more powerful births, which perpetuate the antagonism; till by a miracle of Hellenic will they appear coupled with one another, creating a form of aliveness that is equally Dionysian and Apollonian.”

Spoken more plainly, the Greeks evolved in a bimodal way, caring only for what was beautiful and strong, devoting themselves to an idealised vision of what humanity could be, or perhaps what it already was on another plane just out of sight.

Edith Hamilton sums this perspective up nicely in her in in her magnum opus: The Greek Way: “The Greeks didn’t ignore the external world for the sake of their inner experiences, nor did they reject rational thought for emotional expression. For them, reality and perception were fitted their understanding of the world and their minds harmonised. They grasped the paradoxical nature of truth, favouring neither side, and in all their art there is an absence of struggle, a unifying force, something of calm and serenity, the world has yet to reproduce.” 

 

6. Today's Technocratic World

All this stands in stark opposition to the corporate and ideological control that has smothered the twenty-first century like shrink-wrap on the face of a murder victim. Freedom, anarchism, and dissent have all been bleached from public discourse. Key truths about human nature are concealed, nuance and subtlety is not acknowledged, and genuine artistic expression is frowned upon.

Modern bureaucratic institutions, fixated on the trifecta of safety, security, and comfort, behave in ways that are increasingly impossible to understand and contrary to human flourishing.  From the vapid pleasure-seeking to rampant consumerism, the suppressed Dionysian spirit often bursts forth, seeking a release. But without constructive outlets with which to channel and harness these energies, they become frittered away in cheap thrills, instant gratification and digital escapism.  

The Apollonian drive, orientated towards structure and rational thought, hasn’t vanished. Yet, unlike in ancient Greece where such potent forces were channelled into personal growth and high culture, today we find them twisted; serving vested interest groups and technocratic super-structures.   

Nietzsche referred to this woeful state of affairs as the era of ‘the last man.’ He saw the rise of technology as deeply problematic, arguing that it represented a regression in human potential and a betrayal of the great achievements of earlier civilisations. Think of a it a bit like a bird with clipped wings, satisfied in a luxurious cage, but unable to take flight. From this altogether more subdued state of being we are made more malleable to the ubiquitous corporate and ideological interests that seek to shape us. 

Our lives, once a beautiful tapestry of contrasting values and principles, have been reduced to a monochrome canvas. And yet, as bizarre as it is to type, this state of affairs is not easily communicated to modern people. We have invested heavily in our understanding of ourselves as a great mass to be shaped, guided and instructed, but only grudgingly trusted and rarely given genuine freedom.

7. Chaos & Order: A Framework For Better Living

We’re charged with turning this around. All of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice. We may think we’re domesticated but we’re not.

To do this, we need to construct a solid foundation of discipline and purpose in our lives, for it is upon this scaffolding that we will map out our journey towards our overarching gaols. Yet, our voyage will not be a cloistered one: for as composite creatures, we are called in equal measure to endeavours that quicken our heartbeats, that hurl us beyond our comfort zones, that awaken our wild, chaotic instincts and Dionysian vigour.

To put it simply, we need to blend the best attributes of the Apollonian (i.e. rationality, order, and harmony) with those of the Dionysian (i.e. irrationality, chaos, emotion and instinct), developing a lifestyle strategy that equally Dionysian and Apollonian. For when our attention is fixed upon one side of this equation to the disregard of the other, “human beings result who are only partially developed, their eyes blinded to half of what life and the great world offers.”

Chaos and order, as conceived by Harmonics, are not binary opposites, but rather integral components of a dynamic whole. Rather than encouraging a moderated position between these two states, Harmonics suggests we live at both ends of the spectrum. It is this oscillation, this to-and-fro movement, that creates a friction. And it’s this friction, this dynamic tension, that drives us into lasting wellbeing and personal growth.

“He has lost and destroyed his instinct, and can no longer trust the ‘divine animal’ and let go the reins when his understanding falters and his way leads through deserts.”

In a thought-provoking essay, Stephen Francois summarises the main thrust of this argument: “The ‘Dionysian Principle’ is an essential human trait that demands recognition and intelligent management,” he notes. “But while it’s important that this instinct doesn’t overpower or dictate our actions, it’s equally crucial that we avoid becoming aesthetics: suppressing or overly restraining it … As such, I am for group-sex, feasts, Dionysian fervour, but only when subordinated to, and articulated by, ordo societatis … The more powerful this structured framework, the more freely we can channel the pleasure principle, the orgiastic, within its shadows and without harm to societal cohesion.”  

What Francois is suggesting is that we should encourage the vitality and dynamism of the Dionysian, while simultaneously channelling these impulses within an Apollonian framework — that is, a commitment to discipline, honour and a higher code of ethics that prevents these impulses from becoming the becoming the predominant forces over our lives. 

“All that they achieved was stamped by this dichotomy,” continues Hamilton. “Greek civilisation rested on the immense energy released when the vitality of passion was wedded with the clarity of reason.”    

To put it simply, we need to reignite the Greek spirit within ourselves — a spirit defined by a vigorous pursuit of understanding, a courageous stand against conformity, and a wholehearted embrace of the chaotic and instinctual aspects of existence.  

Rather than cancelling each other out, opposite forces — brought into agreement — create a balanced and efficient whole.

 

We do know and this is important — that a life focused solely on Apollonian element — self-care, meticulous planning, and stringent order — often falls short of being wholly fulfilling. As Plato sagely and somewhat whimsically puts it, nearly a century after the apex of Greek civilisation: “He who is not inspired and has no touch of madness in his soul, and who comes to the door and thinks he will get into the temple by the help of reason alone he is, I say, not admitted.” 

Too many of us nowadays fall down here. We approach life through stagnant, fixed goals: things like wealth building, material acquisition, security etc. We don’t like uncertainty — not being able to predict what might happen next. And it’s also true, I think, that we seek to minimise struggle and discomfort.  

And this is the point that I want to drive home. By strengthening the Apollonian foundation, which is defined by rational thought, order, and structured discipline, we place ourselves in a better position to delve into the Dionysian realm of chaotic passion and excitement; drawing on its fervent energy without being swept away by sometimes overwhelming nature. 

In short, we have to be willing to move between the extremes setting our pulses racing, pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone and plunging into the unpredictable and untamed aspects of existence. At the same time, we need to cultivate a civilized and controlled demeanour — prioritising self-care, forward planning, and the establishment of a rigid framework of order and discipline. 

Through this synthesis, we achieve a state of being that is both vibrant and controlled. But also, and perhaps more importantly, we get experience the full breadth of human emotion and potential, while simultaneously avoiding the traps and pitfalls that come with both the Apollonian (burn-out, stagnation, loss of vitalism) and Dionysian (mindless hedonism, spiritual corruption, loss of identity).  

Once we grasp the fundamental point — that life, in fact, involves a duet between opposing extremes we can begin to reverse the nihilistic stagnation that has overtaken the modern world. And this, more than anything else, is what Lifestyle Harmonics is here to help us with. 

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