"The safest way of not being very miserable is not to expect to be very happy." ― Arthur Schopenhauer
''Get rid of worries! Do not miss life! Get the power inside you! Catch happiness! Everything will be alright!'' These are some of the motivational phrases that are heard frequently in today's world and perhaps give clues about today's mindset on life. Because, according to these thoughts, a human was born with a power that can change many things, and all he has to do is seek and find this power. One should seek happiness and embrace it because the main purpose of life is to be happy. Is that so? Arthur Schopenhauer, perhaps one of the world's most pessimistic philosophers, would probably burst out laughing if he heard this, and then would probably say angrily and discontentedly: "Foolishness! The purpose of life is not happiness, and life has no purpose. Human life must be a mistake anyway, there is only one truth in life, and that is pain.''
Arthur Shopenhauer by Johann Schäfer.
It was a pessimistic opening. But a person cannot help thinking, has anyone really been able to capture happiness after these motivational words, self-help books, videos on the internet that try to instill hope? Is the ultimate goal of a person to be happy? To this question, Schopenhauer answers: "First of all, no person is happy; he pursues an imaginary happiness all his life, rarely seizes it, and even if he does, there will be nothing left but an illusion, a disappointment." Because, according to the famous philosopher, a person is an insatiable being, he constantly needs something, and the satisfaction of these needs provides pleasure, but this pleasure is temporary. As soon as the need or desire is satisfied, it is replaced by another need, and this continues in such a vicious circle. In other words, unlimited satisfaction and satiation is just a scam; because a person is never satisfied, what he experiences is actually a constant lack and pain.
So is pessimism really such a bad thing? Believing that everything will always be fine, being optimistic and hoping is the real salvation? At this point, it seems possible to say that a state of constant optimism is self-deception. In a life where all kinds of possibilities are possible, expecting good things to happen to us all the time can be a great disappointment. At this point, what the pessimist does is to be aware of each of the possible possibilities, and not to have a clear expectation in this way. This may perhaps protect a person from feeling shocked and experiencing extreme sadness when a negative event occurs. However, it is known that excess of everything is harmful, so of course, toxic pessimism is not mentioned here, it is useful to underline it. Only the fact that a person is aware of how small and how insignificant he really is in the face of life can perhaps lead him to the wisdom of life.
Young Schopenhauer. Portrait by Ludwig Sigismund Ruhl.
Looking at the world, it is not possible to say that Schopenhauer was wrong. Because no matter which way one looks, one sees civilians being killed, prisons and torture rooms, wars and concentration camps, patients in operating rooms, and people in hunger and misery. While living in such a world, it does not seem possible to say that this world is the most perfect of all possible worlds, like Leibniz said once. In response to this Schopenhauer said, “The world is the worst of all possible worlds.'' For him, optimism is "a bitter mockery of the endless suffering of men."
As pessimistic as Schopenhauer maybe, reading him can actually cheer one up. Because one thinks that he is truly understood and that he is not alone. Schopenhauer's aphorisms and metaphors drag one to other realms and it is not possible to fall into depressive thoughts while reading him. Finally, when it comes to pessimism, it is possible to say that pessimism might actually be a source of happiness. How does? The pessimistic person always calculates the worst that can happen. When none of the fiction in his head and the current disaster scenarios come true, he can be very happy with even the slightest positive development. Pessimism pushes people to analyze and think, allows them to look at a subject from many different angles, and thus creates a flexible thinking system. Simply, this can make a person stronger about what can happen to him in life. As the last word, Schopenhauer is an annoying philosopher that deserves to be read over and over again, and his pessimism is dark but life-changing.
“Alain de Botton on Pessimism.” YouTube, uploaded by The School of Life, 4 Feb. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw1oLtuJOXQ.
Kiriş, Nurten. Arthur Schopenhauer'da Kötülük Problemi ve Kötümserlik. 2008. Muğla Üniversitesi, Yüksek Lisans Tezi.
Schopenhauer, Arthur, and Bailey Saunders. The Wisdom of Life. Dover Ed, Dover Publications, 2004.
Schopenhauer, Arthur. The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer; Studies in Pessimism. e-book, Gutenberg eBook, 2004.