The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was an extreme pessimist, he thought that we live in the worst of all possible worlds and that happiness is only an illusion. It is famous his phrase: “Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward, between pain and boredom”.
However, after his death, among his personal notes was found a manuscript entitled “Die Kunst, glücklich zu sein”, which could be translated as “The art of being happy”. In that manuscript he listed a series of rules to avoid unnecessary suffering and be happier.
These are some of the most valuable advices of this philosopher to be happy, or at least try.
The keys to happiness, according to Schopenhauer
1. Avoid envy and comparisons
“Nothing is implacable or cruel as envy”, said Schopenhauer. Envy is one of the most negative emotions we can experience because it condemns us to a state of permanent dissatisfaction, far from happiness. Comparing ourselves with others implies dedicating time and energy to an unsuccessful task in which we will almost always lose, since we usually compare ourselves with those we think are richer, more capable or happier. Therefore, the first step to be happy is to stop comparing and understand that envy has no place because we are all different.
2. Stop worrying about the results
Schopenhauer said that before taking on any project or making an important decision, we should reflect a lot on it but, once we have taken the step, we have to stop worrying obsessively about the results. The philosopher encouraged us to give the best of ourselves and remain with the intimate satisfaction of having done our best, without being too anxious about the results obtained, because often they do not even depend exclusively on us.
3. Follow your instinct
Schopenhauer thought that there are very creative people and others more logical, people prone to action and others to contemplation. Therefore, one of his keys to be happy was to let be driven by instinct and not go against our nature. According to the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, it would mean finding our authentic passion and follow it, to enter that state of flow that provokes great inner satisfaction.
4. Make that happiness depend only on you
This philosopher advocated self-sufficiency. He explained that if our happiness depends on others, then it is not ours. He considered that “happiness belongs to those who are self-sufficient, because all external sources of happiness and enjoyment are, according to their species, insecure, defective, fleeting and subject to chance”. For that reason, he encouraged to look inside the reasons to be happy, not outside.
5. Limit your wishes
Schopenhauer, deeply influenced by Buddhist philosophy, thought that to be happy we must limit our desires. He thought that continuously wishing plunges us into a spiral of dissatisfaction that leads us to run after things that will never finish satisfying us because they generate new needs and desires. Therefore, he was deeply convinced that one of the secrets to be happy is to desire less.
6. Control your expectations
This philosopher not only encourages us to limit our desires but also our expectations, because these are often the cause of unhappiness. Every expectation that is not fulfilled is fertile ground for frustration. In fact, he affirmed that “instead of speculating about the favorable possibilities, inventing a hundred of hopeful delusions, all pregnant with disappointment if not fulfilled, we should focus on all the adverse possibilities, which would lead us to take precautions”. In other words, he encourages to develop a more realistic vision that allows us to face the obstacles, instead of feeding false expectations that make us unhappy.
7. Valorize what you have as if you were going to lose it tomorrow
Long before the modern studies on gratitude were carried out, Schopenhauer already spoke of the importance of valuing what we have, from health, family and friends to material things. He warned us that “we rarely think about what we have; but always in what we lack”. Therefore, we must learn to look at life with a more positive prism, feeling grateful for those “gifts” and taking advantage of them while we can. Starting the day giving thanks for what we have, is an excellent way to cultivate happiness.
8. Be compassionate with yourself
We can become very ruthless judges with ourselves. By analyzing our lives and the mistakes we made, we can overreact to reproaches, generating a deep sense of guilt and dissatisfaction that generates bitterness. For that reason, Schopenhauer said “kindness is like a pillow, that even though it has nothing inside, at least it dampens the ravages of life”. The philosopher encouraged us to be more kind and understanding with our failures and weaknesses, which does not mean that we should not try to improve, but without the need to self-scourging.
9. Balance the attention between the present and the future
Schopenhauer thought that an imbalance between the attention we give to the present and the future, can cause the one to spoil the other. Basically, he exhorts us to elaborate plans but with our feet on the ground, enjoying the here and now, without postponing happiness to a future that could not come. His idea is that we should not subordinate our happiness to a future goal, but neither should we be too obfuscated by a present adversity to think that the future does not bring us anything positive. The key lies in moving in time with ease, finding in each moment what we need to get ahead.
10. Undertake and learn, always
Schopenhauer said “there is no favorable wind for those who do not know what port they are going to”. Therefore, he always gave great importance to plans and future projects, which provide an essential dose of enthusiasm to life. When we remain in our comfort zone, without learning anything or considering new challenges, we will extinguish a bit each day. Therefore, to be happy we need to move continuously forward, posing ourselves new challenges and making new learnings that allow us to grow as persons.