The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was an extreme pessimist, he thought that we lived in the worst of all possible worlds and that happiness was just an illusion. His phrase is famous: “life swings like a pendulum back and forth, between pain and boredom”.
However, after his death, a manuscript entitled "Die Kunst, glücklich zu sein" was found among his personal notes, which could be translated as "The art of being happy". In that manuscript he listed a set of rules to avoid unnecessary suffering and be happier.
These are some of this philosopher's most valuable tips for being happy, or at least trying.
The keys to happiness, according to Schopenhauer
1. Avoid envy and confrontation
“Nothing is relentless or cruel like envy,” Schopenhauer said. Envy is one of the most negative emotions we can feel because it condemns us to a state of permanent dissatisfaction, moving us away from happiness. Comparing ourselves with others involves devoting time and energy to an unsuccessful task in which we almost always lose, because we usually confront those we think are richer, more capable, or happier. Therefore, the first step to being happy is to stop comparing ourselves and understand that envy does not make sense because we are all different.
2. Stop worrying about the results
Schopenhauer said that before embarking on any project or making an important decision, we should think long and hard about it but, once we take the step, we need to stop obsessively worrying about the results. The philosopher encourages us to give the best of ourselves and to remain with the inner 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 instincts
Schopenhauer thought that there were very creative people and others more logical, people led to action and others to contemplation. Therefore, one of his tips for being happy is to let yourself be carried away by instinct and not go against our nature. According to the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, it would mean finding our authentic passion and following it, entering that state of flow that causes enormous inner satisfaction.
4. Make your happiness depend only on you
This philosopher encouraged self-reliance. 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, flawed, fleeting and subject to chance". For this reason, he encouraged us to look for reasons to be happy inside, not outside.
5. Limit your desires
Schopenhauer, deeply influenced by Buddhist philosophy, thought that to be happy we must limit our desires. He thought that continually wishing plunges us into a spiral of dissatisfaction that leads us to chase after things that will never cease to satisfy us, because they will generate new needs and desires. Therefore, he was deeply convinced that one of the secrets to being happy is to want a lot less.
6. Check your expectations
This philosopher not only encourages us to limit our desires, but also our expectations, because these are often the cause of unhappiness. Any unfulfilled expectation is a breeding ground for frustration. Indeed, he stated that "instead of speculating on favorable possibilities, inventing hundreds of hopeful illusions, all fraught with disappointment if not satisfied, we should focus on all adverse possibilities, which would lead us to take precautions". In other words, it encourages us to develop a more realistic view that allows us to face obstacles, instead of harboring false expectations that make us unhappy.
7. Evaluate what you have as if you were to lose it tomorrow
Long before modern studies of gratitude were made, Schopenhauer was already talking about 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 through more positive lenses, feeling grateful for those "gifts" and taking advantage of them as long as we can. Starting the day by giving thanks for what we have is an excellent way to cultivate happiness.
8. Be compassionate with yourself
We can become very ruthless judges to ourselves. By analyzing our lives and the mistakes we have made, we may overdo the blame, generating a deep sense of guilt and dissatisfaction which in turn generates bitterness. For this reason, Schopenhauer said that "kindness is like a pillow, which even if it has nothing inside, at least dampens the ravages of life". The philosopher encourages us to be kinder and more understanding with our flaws and weaknesses, which does not mean that we should not try to improve, but without self-flagellation.
9. Balance the attention between the present and the future
Schopenhauer thought that an imbalance between the attention we give to the present and that we give to the future can cause one to ruin the other. Basically, it urges us to develop projects, but keeping our feet on the ground, enjoying the here and now, without postponing happiness to a future that may never come. His idea was that we shouldn't mortgage our happiness for a future goal, but neither should we be too clouded by present adversity to think that the future will bring us nothing positive. The key is to move smoothly over time, to find at any moment what we need to move forward.
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 attached great importance to future plans and projects, which bring a good dose of excitement to life. When we stay in our comfort zone, without learning anything or planning new challenges, we turn off a little at a time every day. Therefore, in order to be happy, we must go on continuously, always learning something new and setting ourselves new challenges that allow us to grow as people.