Arthur Schopenhauer was born on February 22, 1788 in Danzig, Poland. He had a pessimistic personality. He said for example: ““Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom”
Arthur was not a happy fellow so what a surprise to find after his death, in his personal notes, a manuscript in the writings entitled “Die Kunst, glücklich zu sein” which could be translated as the art of being happy. I couldn’t find any trace of it in English bibliographies. Schopenhauer says that we can’t be happy but at least we can follow rules to avoid pain. He lists 50 rules. The first rule is not to aim for an unachievable happiness but to manage your life as well as you can by avoiding unnecessary suffering for you and others.
The second rule is to avoid jealousy by comparing with others (hum that sounds like positive psychology)
The third rule is to not drift from your natural tendencies. Some are creative others contemplative. Don’t go against your nature
An Other rule is to be self-sufficient: “Happiness belongs to those who are sufficient unto themselves. For all external sources of happiness and pleasure, are by their very nature, highly uncertain, precarious, ephemeral and subject to chance.”
In his essay “on the wisdom of life” from Schopenhauer final work, “Parerga und Paralipomena” (1851), Arthur sees health as the most important factor of happiness that can’t be traded for honors.
“For, after all, the foundation of our whole nature, and, therefore, of our happiness, is our physique, and the most essential factor in happiness is health, and, next in importance after health, the ability to maintain ourselves in independence and freedom from care. There can be no competition or compensation between these essential factors on the one side, and honor, pomp, rank and reputation on the other, however much value we may set upon the latter. No one would hesitate to sacrifice the latter for the former, if it were necessary. We should add very much to our happiness by a timely recognition of the simple truth that every man’s chief and real existence is in his own skin, and not in other people’s opinions; and, consequently, that the actual conditions of our personal life,—health, temperament, capacity, income, wife, children, friends, home, are a hundred times more important for our happiness than what other people are pleased to think of us: otherwise we shall be miserable.”
“It is the possession of a great heart or a great head, and not the mere fame of it, which is worth having, and conducive to happiness”
Schopenhauer has been influenced by Buddhism and believed in the limitation of your desire to lower suffering. Life was for him a painful road and his (limited) happiness rested in avoiding, reducing, coping. None the less, his rules are good guidelines to live a happy life.
I leave you with a sample of a six part series on philosophy presented by philosopher Alain de Botton, featuring six thinkers and their ideas about the pursuit of happiness. This episode is about Schopenhauer.
Click on the painting to discover the artist Bob Row and his gallery of portraits
You can also read this very good article about Schopenhauer and happiness.