Schopenhauer on Self-Actualization

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

In our first two posts on Schopenhauer’s The Wisdom of Life, we learned that happiness consists in what a man is rather than has, and that health is the foundation which makes such joy possible. We now turn toward the crafting of our daily lives, the purposeful ordering of one’s actions in order to reach our potential.

Schopenhauer wrote extensively that there is no greater gift than intelligence and the leisure with which to pursue it.

He believed that we must guard our thoughts and time so as to ensure we are working toward our own particular ends, and that the wise will value this above all else. In finding that which brings us most joy, we actually become shielded from the unnecessaries of life, and out of respect for our own finite time and appreciation for our unique gifts, we learn to organize our daily experience in ways which best serve us.

“The man to whom nature and fate have granted the blessing of wisdom, will be most anxious and careful to keep open the fountains of happiness which he has in himself; and for this, independence and leisure are necessary. To obtain them, he will be willing to moderate his desires and harbor his resources, all the more because he is not, like others, restricted to the external world for his pleasures.”

When we have found our “fountain of happiness”, whether it be a passion, work, or loved ones, our daily focus becomes maintaining its constant flow.

In finding the thing we most desire we become free from all that we do not. Distractions of the modern age not only become nonsensical, but we recognize that they are an obstacle to our development, an enemy pulling our attention and time away from that which we value most. When we learn why we are here, all we ask of life is the opportunity to pursue that which we are called to, finding we are far less reliant on external circumstances for our fulfillment.

“From his surroundings he asks nothing but leisure for the free enjoyment of what he has got, time, as it were, to polish his diamond.”

Schopenhauer stresses that the pursuit of one’s highest self becomes a fundamental need for the individual. As Abraham Maslow taught, “What a man can be, he must be.”

As a Jiu Jitsu instructor, I have found there are two kinds of students: those who want to train and those who have to, and their relative progress and enjoyment demonstrates this. When we find something which gives us great enthusiasm, it is our responsibility to ourselves to pursue it. But, as we are a part of a greater whole, it is our responsibility to the rest of humanity as well. The world is simply a more beautiful place when people follow their passions.

On my road trip this summer visiting the national parks, I listened to audiobooks and lectures for the bulk of the ride. When I did listen to music, it was often the band Chvrches. Awed by the beauty of Lauren Mayberry’s voice, I felt such gratitude that she pushed through the adversities in her own life to cultivate and share her gift with the world. The world, and my life, are more beautiful because of it.

Schopenhauer wrote about Aristotle’s idea that a man’s happiness consists in the free exercise of his highest faculties. There has never been your particular combination of genetic inheritance and life experience. You are fashioned to see the world in a way no human has, and there exists a particular task for which you, above the rest of humanity, are most suited.

When we find what that is, its fulfillment becomes our greatest endeavor.

In our fourth post in this series, we will learn how to navigate the opinions of others, a stress all have felt who have walked a path uniquely their own.

If you want to read Chris’s latest book on personal development, check it out here.

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