Once you get started with the exuberant Schopenhauer, it’s hard to stop. Thus I went once more unto the breach and slurped up his book of advice, filled with cheery tidbits like “the safest way of not being miserable is not to expect to be very happy” (p 11). He reveals an intellectual crush on eighteenth century writer Nicholas Chamfort that makes me curious about that sarcastic, brilliant man. He continues his reliance on referencing Goethe, “instead of finding pleasure, happiness, and joy, we get experience, insight, knowledge – real and permanent blessings instead of fleeting and illusory ones,” this the thought that runs through Wilhelm Meister like a bass line.
He spends fourteen pages detailing the need to be self-sufficient and to love solitude:
“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.” (p 24) And “Intellectual superiority offends by its very existence, without any desire to do so. [Society] compels us to shrivel up, an act of severe self-denial; we must forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to become like other people.” (p 25)
Thoughts on politeness:
It is a wise thing to be polite; consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude. To make enemies by unnecessary and willful incivility is just as insane as setting your house on fire… Wax, a substance naturally hard and brittle, can be made soft by the application of a little warmth, so it will take any shape you please. In the same way, by being polite and friendly, you can make people pliable and obliging even though they are apt to be crabbed and malevolent. Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.
Of course, it is no easy matter to be polite; in so far as it requires us to show great respect for everybody, whereas most people deserve none at all… You should never lose sight of the fact that ordinary politeness is only a grinning mask: if it shifts its place a little or is removed for a moment, there is no use raising a hue and cry. When a man is downright rude, it is as though he had taken off all his clothes and stood before you. Like most men in this condition, he does not present a very attractive appearance. (p 77)
On staying focused:
The things which engage our attention are of such diverse kinds that they present a medley of glaring contrasts. There must be a corresponding abruptness in the thoughts and anxieties these various matters arouse in us, if our thoughts are to be in keeping with their various subjects. Therefore, the first step is to withdraw our attention from everything else: this will enable us to attend to each matter at its own time, and to enjoy or put up with it, quite apart from any thought of our remaining interests. Our thoughts must be arranged in little drawers, to that we may open one without disturbing any of the others. (p 45)
On the importance of keeping a journal:
The advice here given is on a par with a rule recommended by Pythagoras – to review, every night before going to sleep, what we have done during the day. To live at random, in the hurly-burly of business or pleasure without ever reflecting upon the past is to have no clear idea of what we are about; a man who lives in this state will have chaos in his emotions and certain confusion in his thoughts; as is soon manifest by the abrupt and fragmentary character of his conversation, which becomes a kind of mincemeat… And in this connection it will be in place to observe that, when events and circumstances which have influenced us pass away in the course of time, we are unable to bring back and renew the particular mood or state of feeling which they aroused in us: but we can remember what we were led to say and do in regard to them; and this forms, as it were the result, expression and measure of those events. We should, therefore, be careful to preserve the memory of our thoughts at important points in our life; and herein lies the great advantage of keeping a journal. (p 23)
We should never forget that the present is the only reality, the only certainty; that the future almost always turns out contrary to our expectations; that the past, too, was very different from what we suppose it to have been. Both the past and the future are, on the whole, of less consequence than we think… The present alone is true and actual; it is the only time which possesses full reality, and our existence lies in it exclusively… let us remember Seneca’s advice, and life each day as if it were our whole life – let us make it as agreeable as possible, it is the only real time we have. (p 19)
Why you hate people as you get older:
On passing his fortieth year, any man of the slightest power of mind will hardly fail to show some trace of misanthropy. It is natural that by this time he has inferred other people’s character from an examination of his own; with the result that he has been gradually disappointed to find that in the qualities of the head or heart he reaches a level to which they do not attain; so he gladly avoids having anything more to do with them. It may be said that every man will love or hate solitude in proportion as he is worth anything in himself. (p 102)