Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was a German philosopher often referred to as the pessimistic philosopher. Although very male-centric in his writings (sometimes jarringly so), what he wrote about the sources of happiness in life rings true for everyone.
I observe that the fundamental differences in human lot may be reduced to three distinct classes:
- What a man is: that is to say, personality, in the widest sense of the word; under which are included health, strength, beauty, temperament, moral character, intelligence and education.
- What a man has: that is, property and possessions of every kind.
- How a man stands in the estimation of others: by which is to be understood, as everybody knows, what a man is in the eyes of his fellow-men, or, more strictly, the light in which they regard him….(p. 11).
The only thing that stands in our power to achieve, is to make the most advantageous use possible of the personal qualities we possess, and accordingly to follow such pursuits only as will call them into play, to strive after the kind of perfection of which they admit and to avoid every other; consequently, to choose the position, occupation and manner of life which are most suitable for their development.
Imagine a man endowed with herculean strength who is compelled by circumstances to follow a sedentary occupation, some minute exquisite work of the hands, for example, or to engage in study and mental labor demanding quite other powers, and just those which he has not got––compelled, that is to leave unused the powers in which he is preeminently strong; a man placed like this will never feel happy all his life through. Even more miserable will be the lot of the man with intellectual powers of a very high order, who has to leave them undeveloped and unemployed, in the pursuit of a calling, for which his strength is insufficient….(p. 16).
What a man is contributes more to his happiness than what he has, or how he is regarded by others. What a man is , and so what he has in his own person, is always the chief thing to consider; for his individuality accompanies him always and everywhere, and gives its color to all his experiences. (p. 20).
Schopenhauer, A., Trans. Saunders, T. (1995), (See Bookshelf for full citation).
And which of the three classes is continually influenced by our culture to strive toward as most important? Classes 2 and 3, Schopenhauer concedes, have importance but pale compared with what we do with the inherent person that we are.