Serious students of philosophy will find what I have written here incomplete. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who becomes interested in Schopenhauer after reading this article to also check out “The World as Will and Representation”.
But for those who don’t have a burning interest in philosophy and just want to get to the good stuff, this article is for you.
And I do hope that philosophy students won’t judge my efforts too harshly. I’ve only read his essays once, and I’m sure I’m missing something.
Let’s dive right into what old Artie can teach us:
The principle element in the well-being of men is their inner constitution: He was influenced quite a bit by Buddhist wisdom and a lot of the Eastern wisdom traditions. Nothing external is going to be as important to your happiness and health as what you have inside. That’s not “feel-good”, “self-help” talk, but solid damn advice. Look within. When there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do you no harm.
The limits of a man are his own: You may have had a lot of people who liked to tell you what is, or what is not possible for you. How the hell would they know? I don’t know if you’ve ever let someone shove a finger in your face and tell you that you’re no good, but Arthur Schopenhauer would stick up for you. And of course this goes for women as well.
No one can get beyond his own individuality: Basically, no one will ever know what it’s like to be you. And you will never know what it’s like to be anyone else. Personally, I’m a tall, white male, from a middle-class neighborhood, who trains as a boxer. I will never, ever know what it’s like to be a short, African-American stock trader who lives in urban New York. I can’t ever get inside that person’s mind, and there are billions of perspectives out there that you and I can learn from. Each and every person that you run into knows something that you don’t. Don’t let them leave until you learn it.
A healthy beggar is happier than an ailing king: Of course he is! Your health is SO important to your happiness and I urge you to take care of it. You can’t put this off; it’s a matter of self-respect. Respect yourself enough to take care of your body and your mind. No excuses. I know that it’s easy for me to say since I have no major health problems. But there IS something you can do. Find out what that is, and get busy.
Our existence is but an infinitesimal moment between two eternities: This is by far my favorite quote from these essays. It’s one of those lines you read, put the book down, and you notice that everything in the room appears sharper to your eye. Everything is clear. There was an eternity before your birth and there will be an eternity after your death. You have this ONE CHANCE to be everything you want to be, and do everything that you want to do. I don’t know about you, but that thought fills me with life and vigor.
Everyone stands alone in the end and the person matters more than anything external: No one can face your own death except you. Since no one can die for you, don’t let anyone live for you either. It’s you who has to face what’s ahead, and decide what your future holds. No one else can make these choices for you, and you’re depriving yourself of life if you let them. After your death, there won’t be any cars, or salaries, or titles, or awards. If you don’t live for something, you’ll die for nothing.
To be happy means to be self-sufficient: That’s what Godlike Discipline is about; teaching people to be self-sufficient. It can be scary sometimes heading out on your own, whether it’s moving out of your parent’s house, starting a new business, or ending a relationship that’s not working for you any more. But you will adapt. And you will be stronger for making the leap. Know that whatever happens, you can fall back on you.
The opinions of others have no value and no actual existence: Opinions don’t exist out there in the world, independent of how we feel about them. If someone thinks you’re a bad father, that doesn’t make you a bad father. And if someone thinks you’re an expert, that doesn’t make you an expert either. Again, I don’t want to sound like some lame motivational speaker, but your opinion of yourself is what will guide your actions. If you believe that you’re a good father, you’re going to start acting like one. And that other guy can go pound sand.
Actions are fleeting but works remain: I’ll end with one that I can only partially agree with. I take this to mean that your legacy will live on, regardless of the inconsequential actions that didn’t lead to your leaving a legacy. For me, I don’t care at all about legacy. In fact, I respectfully turn down every award that I am ever presented with.
That’s not why I do what I do, and your legacy will only last as long as there are people to remember it. And who knows how long that will be?
However…dedicate your life to something. I believe that everyone, at least once in their life, should try to become really good at something. Only you know what that could be, but please, take your shot. It doesn’t matter if anyone will remember you; that doesn’t take away from the importance of what you are doing. And in my opinion, becoming excellent, and dedicating your life to something, not knowing whether it will ever be remembered, is the highest expression of human dignity.
Alright, so I’m glad I kept your attention during the heavy stuff. It’s important.
There’s way more to Schopenhauer than I could ever get to in this short article, but there are some very powerful ideas here.
If you’d like more reading suggestions, check out this list of every book that I’ve ever read.
And if you’d like copies of my notes on any of these books, you have only to ask.
With that in mind, my email is email@example.com and I welcome your questions and comments.
May your discipline become Godlike,
THINK ABOUT IT:
Don’t just skim this article once and forget about it. You’re not going to retain much that way. And certainly not for long. Repeated exposure to ideas is part of what makes them stick, and you have to return to the ideas in this book that have been helpful to you if you want them to become a part of your life. Please, take notes of your own and review them from time to time.
“The reader lives 1,000 lives before he dies; the non-reader lives but once.”
Matt Karamazov is a mentor, boxer, label exec, and social activist who reads 200 books per year and throws 300 punches per minute. The website, Godlike Discipline, is his most deeply felt project, dedicated to raising money for causes he cares about, as well as helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.