The question of what happiness actually is has puzzled humankind since time immemorial. After all, it was one of the first issues that the early Greek philosophers turned to. They called it eudaimonia, a term that encompasses prosperity and good fortune as well as happiness.
Well based on his book “The Wisdom of Life”, the question troubled Arthur Schopenhauer, too, and in this essay he presents his own thoughts on the matter. He attempts both to define what happiness is and to ascertain how life should be lived so as to how life should be lived so as to achieve it. According to him, that is the only way to gain the wisdom of life.
Ruminating on the qualities and nature of human life is nothing new. But after the rumination comes the practical part. How, exactly, are you supposed to live your life for maximum benefit and happiness?
Of course, the Greek philosophers got there first. Aristotle thought human blessings could be classified into three categories: blessings that are external to the self, blessings of the soul and blessings of the body.
Aristotle was on the right track. There are three categories of blessings, but they don’t align with his conception of them.
First and foremost, there’s personality, or “what a man is.” Personality isn’t just your character; it also covers your health, strength, beauty, temperament, moral outlook, intelligence and education. These attributes are generally determined by nature, and as such they’re very significant in governing human happiness. Most importantly, a person’s inner constitution, or “what he is made of,” plays the biggest role in shaping his well-being. Just think of health: it’s axiomatic that a healthy beggar is happier than a sick prince.
Needless to say, for Schopenhauer, the greatest pleasures are those of the mind. As he puts it, “An intellectual man in complete solitude has excellent entertainment in his own thoughts and fancies, whilst no amount or diversity of social pleasure […] can ward off boredom from the dullard.”
The second category is property, or “what a man has.” Material wealth can satisfy real and basic needs, but it won’t get you any further than that. It’s never going to truly satiate you or compensate for a a lack of inner wealth. Happiness comes from elsewhere. That’s why rich people, though materially well off, aren’t particularly happy.
Finally, there’s position. In other words, how you’re thought of by others. An inwardly rich person, unlike a fool, will pay little heed to others’ opinions. She’ll just live her life.
That’s the basics covered. Now let’s look at each blessing in more detail. Let’s begin with the first of the three distinct categories that make up the blessings of life; personality. You’re always going to carry it with you, no matter where you go or what you do. Therefore, who you really are matters a great deal.
A critical part of personality is health and it accounts for nine tenths of happiness. If you’re healthy, you’re more likely to find pleasure in things. If you’re unhealthy, nothing is enjoyable. Aristotle put it very well indeed when he said, “Life is movement.” That’s to say, if you want to stay healthy, a little bit of exercise each day will go a long way.
What’s more, a mind engaged in constant introspection needs an external counterpart. Consider a tree. Every now and again, the wind needs to shake it up a bit, so it can thrive. In addition to health, the gifts of the mind are significant in determining human happiness. A famous phrase from the Old Testament – “The life of a fool is worse than death” – sums this up well. f you’re lucky enough to have been gifted with intellectual abilities, then you should lead an intellectual life. That way, your mind will be kept busy and you needn’t ever worry about boredom.
A rich and fertile mind will see beauty in the commonplace, while a fool is stuck with what’s in front of him. Cast your consideration upon Goethe or Lord Byron – the fertility of their minds provided them with inner wealth and happy self-sufficiency.
It’s time to examine the second category, property, or “what a man has.” Once again, the Greeks got there first. Epicurus divided human needs into three parts. Specifically, these are possessions that satiate or quell certain feelings. First off, there are natural and necessary needs. These include food, shelter and clothing. Without them, we’d be in pain. Second, there are the natural but unnecessary needs – that is, all things that gratify the senses. These can be tough to satisfy. Finally, there are outright luxuries, which are neither natural nor necessary. And as they aren’t actually needs per se, they’re the hardest to fulfill.
Naturally, there’s a bit of overlap among the three categories, because we’re all different. What one person considers a luxury, for instance, might be considered a natural but unnecessary need by someone else Position is the third category of life’s blessings. It’s all about how you appear to others. Let’s begin with its first aspect, reputation.
Generally speaking, we worry too much about other people’s estimation of us. We can’t seem to help it, though our concern is completely unnecessary. Excessive attention to other people’s attitudes is a folly we’re all susceptible to. We call it vanity.
More than being an undesirable trait, vanity is a real impediment to happiness. The opinions of others will distract you from finding peace of mind and inner contentment, both of which are crucial to a happy existence.
Roughly half of life’s anxieties can be traced back to overconcern about other people’s opinions. It’s a mighty task to reduce this natural impulse, and to tell ourselves not to listen to or think about the views of others. But the moment we see it for what it is – complete folly – we’ll be one step closer to being rid of it. Stay happy or well, seek out inner happiness.
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