Reading Notes From "The Wisdom Of Life" by Arthur Schopenhauer

Eudaemonology: Ordering our lives aiming for the greatest possible amount of pleasure and success. A happy existence is that which would be decidedly preferable to non-existence.

Division of the subject.#

  • What you are: Things like health, strength, beauty, temperament, moral character, intelligence, and education.
  • What you have: Property and possessions of every kind.
  • Your social standing/status.

What you are, is that which influences happiness most. Our primary source of well-being is our inner constitution.

The world proves different to different people, because of the way they look at it. Our subjective life experience is incomparably more important for our happiness and pleasure than the objective.

No amount of wealth can replace:

  • A quiet and cheerful temperament,
  • a sound physique.
  • a clear intellect, perceptive, penetrating and seeing things as they are.
  • a moderate and gentle will, and therefore a good conscience.

When Socrates saw various luxury items spread out for sale, he exclaimed: "How much there is in the world I do not want".

Achievement comes from taking full advantage of our personal qualities, following pursuits that bring out our best qualities into play and avoiding all other pursuits. Consequently, to choose the position, occupation and manner of life, most suitable for developing our qualities.

Primarily aim at maintaining your health and cultivating your mind, secondarily wealth-building. Not to be mistaken as meaning that we should neglect necessary wealth. Finally, still, every one has to strive for a good name.

On the company of lesser minds: Their minds are vacant, their imagination dull, their spirits poor, and so they are driven to the company of those like them — for "similis simili gaudet" —where they make common pursuit of pastime and entertainment, consisting for the most part in sensual pleasure, amusement of every kind, and finally, in excess and libertinism.

On being bored: Their mind is empty and void, and so they are bored with existence.

Personality - or what you are#

In general, what you are contributes much more to your happiness than what you have, or your status.

Further, the contents of consciousness are ever-present and enduring in all we do or suffer; our individuality is persistently at work, more or less, throughout our life: All other influences are fleeting, and subject to every kind of chance and change. This is why Aristotle says: It is not wealth but character that lasts.

Subjective blessings,—a noble nature, a capable head, a joyful temperament, bright spirits, a well-constituted, perfectly sound physique, in a word, "mens sana in corpore sano", are the first and most important elements in happiness.

Of all these, what makes us the happiest, is a cheerful flow of good mood; for this excellent quality is its own immediate reward.

Health, rather than wealth, is the main contributor to cheerfulness. Consequently we should try to maintain the highest degree of health possible; for cheerfulness is the very flower of it.

Avoid every kind of excess, all violent and unpleasant emotion, all mental overstrain, take daily exercise in the open air, cold baths and such like hygienic measures. For without a proper amount of daily exercise no one can remain healthy; Aristotle rightly says, Life is movement;

As Epictetus says, Men are not influenced by things, but by their thoughts about things. And, in general, nine-tenths of our happiness depends upon health alone. With health, everything is a source of pleasure;

A genius is one whose nervous power or sensitiveness is largely in excess;

If it is equally possible for an event to turn out well or ill, the difficult person will be annoyed or grieved if the issue is unfavourable, and will not rejoice, should it be happy. On the other hand, the easy person will neither worry nor fret over an unfavourable issue, but rejoice if it turns out well.

People of gloomy and anxious character, are, on the whole, more imaginary and therefore less real than bright, care-free people.

If you paint everything black, constantly fear the worst and take measures accordingly, you will not be disappointed often in this world, as one who always looks upon the bright side of things.

Beauty is an open letter of recommendation, we are predisposed to favour beautiful people.

The two foes of human happiness are pain and boredom. Life presents, in fact, a more or less violent oscillation between the two.

A man is sociable just in the degree in which he is intellectually poor and generally vulgar. For one's choice in this world does not go much beyond solitude on one side and vulgarity on the other.

Ordinary people think merely how they shall spend their time; a man of any talent tries to use it.

Hence, in all countries the chief occupation of society is card- playing,{1} and it is the gauge of its value, and an outward sign that it is bankrupt in thought.

Why card- playing is so demoralizing: since the whole object of it is to employ every kind of trick and machination in order to win what belongs to another.

To be happy means to be self-sufficient. For all other sources of happiness are in their nature most uncertain, precarious, fleeting, the sport of chance.

The happiest destiny on earth (but maybe not the most brilliant) is to have the rare gift of a rich personality, and, especially having a good mind.

The highest product of Nature is the clearest degree of consciousness, in which the world mirrors itself more plainly and completely than anywhere else.

With intellectual pleasure, on the other hand, truth becomes clearer and clearer. In the realm of intelligence pain has no power.

With the growth of intelligence, comes increased capacity for pain, and it is only with the highest degree of intelligence that suffering reaches its supreme point.

When privileged with intelligence, you lead two lives: a personal and an intellectual life; And the latter gradually comes to be regarded as the true one, and the former as merely a means to it.

Amateurs cannot entirely identify with their hobbies, or have them fill their existence to the degree they lose all interest in everything else.

Only genius, that can display this degree of intensity, making all time and existence its theme, and striving to express its peculiar conception of the world.

Hence, undisturbed occupation with themselves, their own thoughts and works, is a matter of urgent necessity to a genius; Solitude is welcome, leisure is the highest good, and everything else is unnecessary, nay, even burdensome.

Those endowed with intellectual wealth are the happiest;

On Tasteless People: A philistine is and remains {Greek: amousos anaer}.

By philistine, Schopenhauer means people who are always seriously occupied with realities which are no realities;

Someone without mental needs and no intellectual pleasures.

As he possesses no intellectual, but only physical need, he socialises with those who can satisfy the latter, but not the former. The last thing expected from friends is them having of any sort of intellectual capacity.

The great affliction of all philistines is that they have no interest in ideas, and that, to escape being bored, they are in constant need of realities.

What you have#

It is hard to define reasonable limits on the desire for wealth; for there is no absolute amount of wealth which will satisfy.

Discontent springs from a constant endeavour to increase the amount of our claims, when we are powerless to increase the amount which will satisfy them.

He believes that when born and bred in a family of means, you are more careful about the future, more economical, in fact, than those who suddenly went from poverty to wealth.

To start life with means to be independent, that is, living comfortably without having to work, is an advantage which cannot be overestimated;

In the long run, we recognise the inferiority of those above us. When they insult us, we retract. This is not the way to get on in the world. Nay, instead lean towards the advice of Voltaire: "We have only two days to live; it is not worth our while to spend them in cringing to contemptible rascals."

A family is not your possession: If anything you are, in your family's possession.

Your friends belong to you, no more than you belonging to them.

Your Status.#

A human weakness, to generally think too much about the opinion which others form of them;

What we are for other people is within their consciousness, not ours; It should affect us to the degree it can move us to modify what we are in and for ourselves.

A retired mode of life has a positive influence on our inner peace, mainly because we don't have to live constantly in the sight of others, and pay everlasting regard to their casual opinions; in a word, we are able to return to ourselves.

Pride works from within; it is the direct appreciation of oneself. Vanity is the desire to arrive at this appreciation indirectly, from outside.

It is quite true that pride is something which is generally found fault with, and cried down; but usually, I imagine, by those who have nothing upon which they can pride themselves.

The cheapest sort of pride is national pride; for if a man is proud of his own nation, it argues that he has no qualities of his own of which he can be proud; otherwise he would not have recourse to those which he shares with so many millions of his fellowmen.

Orders lose their value when they are distributed unjustly, without due selection, or in too great numbers: a prince should be as careful in conferring them as a man of business is in signing a bill.

Honour is, on its objective side, other people's opinion of what we are worth; on its subjective side, it is the respect we pay to this opinion.

Fame is something which must be won; honour, only something which must not be lost.