Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher. Though his work didn’t get much recognition during his lifetime, he’s had a tremendous impact across various disciplines, including philosophy, literature, and science.
His writing on aesthetics, morality, and psychology has influenced many thinkers and artists including great minds like Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, writers such as Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, and a host of others.
Here are timeless words of wisdom from Arthur Schopenhauer.
1. Life is a journey.
“Our life is like a journey on which, as we advance, the landscape takes a different view from that which is presented at first, and changes again, as we come nearer.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
If you were not taking electronic gadgets apart or solving mathematical equations at age five, you’ve probably ditched your childhood dreams by now. Why? Our view of life is constantly being shaped by our experiences.
As we grow older and get more exposure, we understand ourselves more. The opinions of others matter less, hence, we boldly explore what we feel connected to.
Growing up, I wanted to be a singer; everyone thought it was my calling. And I assumed everyone had to be right. But within me, I hated the loud noise and attention. I preferred to read and just stay indoors in the quiet. And the older I got, the harder it was to deny what I wanted to do.
Being able to see these changes within ourselves requires introspection. There are still people who willfully pursue their childhood goals even when it doesn’t align with them anymore.
Always examine yourself and ask, “Is this what I still want?”
Mark Manson was into music up to his mid-20s before he started writing. Be willing to make a change as your view of life changes. As Jordan Peterson said,
“You are by no means all that you are, you are also all you could be, if you would.”
2. Don’t trivialize what’s easily available.
“We often try to banish the gloom and despondency of the present by speculating upon our chances of success in the future.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
It is in our nature to desire things. But the moment we possess what we desire, it loses its value. We start to imagine how awesome it will be to have something else. What Schopenhauer recommends is that we look at life in the opposite way. He said:
“We should sometimes try to look upon our possessions in the light in which they would appear if we had lost them.”
Whatever it may be: your partner, family, your dog, good health, beautiful children, your parents, imagine you lost them already. Wouldn’t you wish you had just a minute to hold them and show them all the love you could give?
Don’t trivialize the most important things in your life because they are available for free. Treat them as though they are priceless. Appreciate them before you lose them.
3. Nothing is exciting all the time.
“The youth expects his career to be like an interesting romance; and there lies the germ of disappointment.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
Though these words were written a long time ago, it is more relevant now than ever. So many of us think our careers should be exciting all the time. We quit our jobs because we feel we are not making enough impact.
We expect our vocation to be like an adventure where we are busy all the time and getting things done.
Why? Success has been romanticized and packaged for us to watch. Billionaires talk about their success in interviews and we imagine it as a fantastic adventure.
It is this unrealistic expectation that makes most people quit their jobs. Walking your way up the ladder of success requires unsexy work. Sometimes it feels boring and unexciting.
As Robert Greene wrote in Mastery,
“Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life which makes them constantly search for distractions and short circuit the learning process.”
What we usually fail to understand is this: In learning anything, the beginning is always the hardest. Studies show how hard it is for the brain to get used to doing something new — which translates into frustration and boredom.
Also, those who are way ahead can make you feel insecure and frustrated as a beginner — which makes things more overwhelming. It takes time to understand how things work. It’s not easy. If you’re not patient, you quickly drift to something more exciting, making you never master anything.
Interesting: 6 Vital Lessons People Learn Too Late In Life
4. Struggle and victory are life’s flavors.
“Those are happiest of all who are conscious of the power to produce great works animated by some significant purpose.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
One of the advantages we have over our ancestors is the amount of time on our hands. We don’t need to be on guard for predators or go on a food hunt. We are more comfortable now than ever.
But with this free time and comfort comes boredom. To find a cure for this “most dreaded condition,” we set out to attain the highest pleasure possible.
Some turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, and any form of distraction they can lay their hands on. But this only leads to another form of emptiness; they end up in a loop, never satisfied.
What Schopenhauer recommends is that to be truly satisfied, we have to do something significant, no matter how difficult. He said,
“There is a direct pleasure in seeing work grow under one’s hands day by day until at last it is finished.”
The pain of mastering a skill is the real pleasure we should seek. It is not fleeting; it doesn’t leave you empty. You don’t just master the skill, you master yourself — through discipline.
5. Intercourse with others involves leveling down.
“A man is loved by others only to the degree to which he moderates his claim on their good feeling and intelligence.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
After graduating from senior secondary school, I signed up for a computer training program. Excited about making new friends, I told everyone the great things I had going on for me, assuming it’ll make them interested in me. I talked about how good I was at singing, playing the keyboard, and the bass guitar.
They lost interest about 5 minutes into the conversation. There was scratching of heads and rolling of eyes. What I didn’t understand was that it is not our brightness that makes people like us; it is our ability to make them seem bright.
“A man is loved by others only to the degree in which he moderates his claim to their good feeling and intelligence, said Schopenhauer.”
In your interactions with people, resist that urge to make yourself the star. Level down. Understand that if you make them feel good, they’ll come back for more. But if you make them feel insignificant they’ll do everything in their power to avoid you.
6. If you must compare, remember this…
“If a great many people appear to be better off than yourself, think how many there are in a worse position.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
One of our major sources of misery is comparison. I agree that this isn’t a radical concept, but it’s heartbreaking seeing people work hard, and get good results only to become bitter because someone else had it better.
No matter who you compare yourself to, it is never fair to you. Sometimes, people have advantages you are not aware of. The writer you envy might have had a grandmother who wrote short stories for a living, making them exposed to early tutelage.
Comparisons are usually one-sided. You only see the area you are falling back on; the celebrity you’re comparing yourself to might have a drug addiction problem.
So when people appear to be better than you, think about the good things you have going for you. Some people don’t have a great family like yours. Some will give anything to have good health right now.
Tomorrow will be different from today, but the way to guarantee it’s better is to pay attention to life and learn from not just our experiences, but especially from those who are way ahead of us. Always remember:
- Life is like a journey in which your view is shaped by your experiences.
- Don’t trivialize what’s easily available.
- Nothing is exciting all the time.
- Struggle and victory are life’s flavor.
- Intercourse with others involves leveling down.
- When you compare yourself to others, remember those in a worse position.
“Experience of the world may be looked upon as a kind of text, to which reflection and knowledge form the commentary.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
Also read: 5 Things That Clearly Show Someone Is Wise