In Alain De Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy comes a quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche supporting the idea that difficulties of every sort are to be welcomed by those seeking fulfillment.
So sure was he of the benefits that could result from suffering, Nietzche wrote:
“To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished” (206).
Nietzsche noted, “If only we were fruitful fields, we would at bottom let nothing perish unused and see in every event, thing and man welcome manure” (224).
“Fulfillment is reached by responding wisely to difficulties that could tear one apart. Nietzsche urged us to endure” (230). And – never drink.
“Why? Because Raphael had not drunk to escape his envy in Urbino in 1504, he had gone to Florence and learned how to be a great painter. Because Stendhal had not drunk in 1805 to escape his despair . . ., he had gardened the pain for seventeen years and published De l’amour in 1822.
‘If you refuse to let your own suffering lie upon you even for an hour and if you constantly try to prevent and forestall all possible distress way ahead of time; if you experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy of annihilation, and as a defect of existence, then it is clear that [you harbour in your heart] . . . the religion of comfortableness. How little you know of human happiness, you comfortable . . . people, for happiness and unhappiness are sisters and even twins that either grow up together or, as in your case, remain small together'” (233).
Image from: https://readtiger.com/wkp/en/Friedrich_Nietzsche
Nietzsche himself had a hard life. He was plagued with health problems. He advocated a life among friends, but was profoundly lonely, extremely poor, obscure during his lifetime, and unlucky in love. Wikipedia notes that “In 1889, at age 44, he suffered a collapse and a complete loss of his mental faculties. He died in 1900 from late-stage paralytic syphilis.
May the suffering in your life help you grow in numerous ways.
In his book The Consolations of Philosophy,” French philosopher and writer Alain de Botton condenses the wisdom of some of the world’s greatest thinkers into advice for us today.
Amazon describes The Consolations of Philosophy: “Solace for the broken heart can be found in the words of Schopenhauer [but de Botton offers us much humor too as he describes the old lecherous Schopenhauer trying to marry girls half his age]. The ancient Greek Epicurus has the wisest, and most affordable, solution to cash flow problems. A remedy for impotence lies in Montaigne. Seneca offers advice upon losing a job. And Nietzsche has shrewd counsel for everything from loneliness to illness.”
Go to: https://www.amazon.com/Consolations-Philosophy-Alain-Botton/dp/0679779175 The Kindle version is $6.99.
One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the ideas of Epicurus as to what brings us happiness. Although I’ve associated Epicurus with over-the-top sensual pleasure, he actually promoted simplicity. Epicurus influenced Lucretius, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Immanuel Kant among others.
Roman marble bust of Epicurus:
Alain de Botton explains Epicurus’ philosophy pertaining to happiness: “Why, then if expensive things cannot bring us remarkable joy, are we so powerfully drawn to them? Because of an error similar to that of the migraine sufferer who drills a hole in the side of his skull: because expensive objects can feel like plausible solutions to needs we don’t understand. Objects mimic in a material dimension what we require in a psychological one. We need to rearrange our minds but are lured towards new shelves. We buy a cashmere cardigan as a substitute for the counsel of friends.
We are not solely to blame for our confusions. Our weak understanding of our needs is aggravated by what Epicurus termed the ‘idle opinions’ of those around us, which do not reflect the natural hierarchy of our needs, emphasizing luxury and riches, seldom friendship, freedom and thought. The prevalence of idle opinion is no coincidence. It is in the interests of commercial enterprises to skew the hierarchy of our needs, to promote a material vision of the good and downplay an unsaleable one.
And the way we are enticed is through the sly association of superfluous objects with our other, forgotten needs.
It may be a jeep we end up buying, but it was –for Epicurus – freedom we were looking for” (65-66).
“It may be the aperitif we purchase, but it was — for Epicurus — friendship we were after” (66).
“[B]ecause an increase in the wealth of societies seems not to guarantee an increase in happiness, Epicurus would have suggested that the needs which expensive goods cater to cannot be those on which our happiness depends.
Happiness, an acquisition list 9 [based on the ideas of Epirurus].
- A hut. [You may have a palace or a McMansion – but not be happy. However to be happy, you do need a place of shelter and safety – even if it is only very modest].
2. Friends –
3. To avoid superiors, patronization, infighting and competition.
4. Thought. [Epicurus considered main sources of anxiety: death, illness, poverty, superstition. Now since jobs/careers and a sense of meaning seem most important].
5. A reincarnation of Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna (from the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice), whose melancholy expression would belie a dry sense of humour and spontaneity — and who would dress in manmade fibres from the sales racks of modest department stores. [This is de Botton’s interpretation of what Epicurus must mean as a significant other in our life. Barry is that for me].
Happiness may be difficult to attain. The obstacles are not primarily financial” (71-72).[my emphases}.
Read this interesting, wise, humorous book for advice you may use.
Clip art from: http://www.gograph.com/vector-clip-art
During a year of turmoil: Brexit, U.S. elections, Flint, Michigan water, Columbia’s peace deal, Brazil and South Korea both impeaching their presidents, and more, the essay by philosopher and writer Alain de Botton was the most widely read – by far – of any other New York Times article in 2016. People seem most concerned about their own relationships.
In “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” de Botton declares, “We don’t know ourselves and we have unrealistic ideas of what love is. For many, love means no conflict. The modern idea of love is not based on reality. ”
Alain de Botton explains, “Partly, it’s because we have a bewildering array of problems that emerge when we try to get close to others. We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. . . . Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating.”
He says we should be realistic: “We need to swap the Romantic view [of marriage] for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them.”
In his pessimistic/realistic view, de Botton says, “The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the ‘not overly wrong’ person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”. . .
At the end of his essay, de Botton notes, “Romanticism has been unhelpful to us; it is a harsh philosophy. It has made a lot of what we go through in marriage seem exceptional and appalling. We end up lonely and convinced that our union, with its imperfections, is not ‘normal.’ We should learn to accommodate ourselves to ‘wrongness,’ striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners.”
For the complete essay, go to – https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/opinion/sunday/why-you-will-marry-the-wrong-person.html
I learned of this Alain de Botton’s essay through On Being with Krista Tippett, a favorite podcast. When Krista interviewed de Botton in The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships, he expanded on his ideas in a less pessimistic tone than his article. He emphasizes that love is work: “True love is rocky and bumpy,” but the more generous we can be, the more loving our relationships are likely to be.
“What if the first question we asked on a date was, ‘How are you crazy? I’m crazy like this.'” Alain de Botton says that we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. How might our relationships be different — and better — if we understood that the real work of love is not in the falling, but in what comes after.”
If you are counting on a “soul mate” to come along or grumble that your relationship isn’t like those in the movies, listen to Alain de Botton’s interview with Krista Tippett.
Although the world news swirls around you, what is really important says de Botton is to know yourself and be kind and realistic in building love in your relationships.