Arthur Schopenhauer, pessimist

Arthur Schopenhauer - 1788-1860AD

"After your death you will be what you were before your birth."

Arthur Schopenhauer had a tremendously pessimistic view of life. For example he said, "There is no doubt that life is given us, not to be enjoyed, but to be overcome; to be got over." In fact, his enthusiasm for focusing on human misery and despair seemed to know no limit.

Despite being wealthy, his father died when he was seventeen and left him a fortune, he lived a life in which he often spurned friendship and always looked on the gloomy side. It was not the death of his father that triggered his pessimism, "Even as a child of six, my parents, returning from a walk one evening, found me deep in despair"; however, he did appear to understand the reason for his lack of friends, "A man of genius can hardly be sociable".

"We can regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness."1

His major work, The World as Will and Representation, proposes that the basic character of the experiential world in which we live consists of 'blind willing'. He suggests that if you look deeply enough into yourself, you discover not only your true inner nature, but the essence of everything.

Kant argued that the world we perceive is constituted by the mind; he then went onto explain how this might be by defining twelve fundamental judgements or Categories which could be applied in space and time. Schopenhauer reduced Kant's twelve categories to a single principle, blind willing. He defined life in terms of 'willing', "Willing and striving are its whole essence." The "will to live", therefore, is a "will to will".

Perhaps the closest Schopenhauer got to defining happiness was when he said, "The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom."


His legendary pessimism suggests that he did not live a happy life. But he did appear to understand how the minds of others work, and their limitations, stating "Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world." And he helped explain the interaction between happiness and money, stating "Money is human happiness in the abstract: he, then, who is no longer capable of enjoying human happiness in the concrete devotes his heart entirely to money."

Despite his apparent misery, it cannot be disputed that Schopenhauer had a brilliant intellect, with an amazing ability to look deep into the workings of the human mind. He made one statement that may be fundamental to the understanding of the malaise of contemporary life.

"Human beings require more sleep the more developed... and the more active their brain is."

The number of children, who grow up with gadgets in their bedroom that have the effect of reducing the amount of sleep they get, has risen to a nonsensically high number. The most important function of any bedroom is to permit or encourage sleep, which, when sufficient enables the brain to operate at its optimum. This failure to use bedrooms correctly may be one explanation as to why the number of troubled children growing into troubled adults appears to be now higher than ever. A less than optimum brain inevitably results in a less than optimum human being.

For more information about the great philosophers and their views on narcissism and happiness, read Finding Happiness.

1 Schopenhauer