Who is this charming fellow you may be asking yourself. Although you may easily confuse this as a picture of me when I wake up for work at 4:30 every weekday morning, the black and white nature should tell you that is not so. This fellow is Arthur Schopenhauer. He was a German philosopher in the early 1800’s. In my research and study of self-improvement, I come across many of these fellows. Notice the happy grin on his face? Most western philosophers share his gloomy demeanor. In fact, on doing research on the western philosophy thoughts into happiness, I discovered much of this gloominess also creeped into their thoughts and outlooks on the subject.
Art here did have a depressing but somewhat interesting take on what to do when pursuing happiness in life. His answer, in short, was this – don’t. Not too surprising considering his cheerful disposition. He did, however, have some advice that at first blush seems a little on the negative side but may help us find a new way to look at life and to increase the joy in our lives. His advice can be wrapped up in the following statement. “Don’t seek out happiness, but instead seek to diminish your misery.” Way to go Art! Focus on being ‘less miserable’ than ‘more happy’. I think if you go through life with your most inspiring thought being “How can I make life suck less?” you will end up with a life that leaves you looking like our good friend Arthur here. Not really that good of a look, if you were to ask me.
So I sat down to think about this idea a little more. That is actually me. You can see it is a little less scowl and a little more pensive than our German friend above. Wouldn’t making your life less miserable make it happier? I think it is much like a budget. If you wish to have more money in your life you can approach it in two entirely different ways. You can either focus on saving money and cutting expenses (like focus on reducing your misery) This is a very important aspect and will end up with you having more money in your pocket. If all you do is focus on where can we cut costs, you are not only limiting yourself, but you are also focusing on sacrifice and lack. Just like focusing on making life less miserable. It may be worth noting that when facing trouble, businesses tend to focus mainly on cutting costs and that seldom works long term.
If you want more money in your pocket, there is another thing you can do and that is focus on ways of increasing your income. In terms of happiness, this would be looking for ways to add more joy to your life. When you are looking to increase your income there are two options. You can earn more for what you already do, or you can find additional streams of income. Same with your ‘Happiness Budget’. Just made up that term by the way, kind of like it. You can look to find more joy in what you already do in life and you can also look for additional sources of joy. If you enjoy going for a walk in nature, would listening to some meditative music be helpful? Maybe trying to spot as many animals as you can? Maybe just focus on the sites, sounds and smells more? If you don’t get to walk in nature as much as you like, maybe you could try adding that to your life.
If the budget analogy doesn’t quite work for you, think of a garden. Stress, challenges and things that generally make you unhappy are like weeds in a garden. No matter how great of a gardener you are, there will always be some weeds. If you spend every minute in the garden of life pulling weeds (that is getting life to be less miserable) and not focused on helping your plants grow (like growing your happiness) your garden would be mediocre at best. That is like focusing on reducing misery and leaving the growth of happiness to chance. Sure, life may throw a few things your way every once in a while but your life, much like your garden, will be mediocre.
When it comes to a strategy for happiness I am going to say that the cheery Mr. Schopenhauer’s thoughts are not without merit, but merely one side of the coin. I think we should both look to reduce our misery in life while looking to grow our happiness. Just as in our income example, if we want more money in our pockets we should both look to cut expenses as well as increase our income. While tending your garden of life, certainly address picking the weeds, but also make sure to water your plants. Doing so will allow you the greatest harvest. The same can be said about removing the misery as well as growing the happiness, it will give you the greatest harvest.