THE SCHOPENHAUER CURE: LESSONS FROM A PESSIMIST

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Most people worldwide heard about When Nietzsche Wept. However, it’s not the only novel written by Irvin D. Yalom that combines the captivating worlds of literature and philosophy. There’s The Spinoza Problem, quite similar to the former one. But the gem I want to leave you with today is The Schopenhauer Cure.

What would you do if you were told you had, at most, one year left?

For Dr Julius Hertzfeld, there was more to living life than merely enjoying it. He needed to feel valuable through his achievements with his patients. Of course, one can’t help everyone. 

Why can’t I do what I really want to do?

After three years, total dedication from both parties, and no progress accomplished, it’s no wonder Philip Slate was his biggest failure. Yet, he wasn’t a lost cause. It turned out he found the answer to his problem in philosophy, and the therapist for him was none other than Arthur Schopenhauer.

The Schopenhauer cure… Find it shocking? Well, it shouldn’t be. Schopenhauer’s pessimism (or realism, depending on the point of view) could have set the basis for therapy. After all, he was Germany’s most read philosopher when Freud and Nietzsche were schoolboys. Arthur’s writings focused on the knowledge stemming from feelings, leading to topics such as fear, envy, sexual lust, aggression, self-seeking, life, death, etc.

These and more human features/concerns arise throughout the book to face the “philosophical counselling” of Arthur Schopenhauer. Whether the characters like it or not, whether they find an answer in it or not. And we, the readers, get an insight into this novel’s philosophical muse’s life and work:

Pain and suffering are inevitable, inescapable, and essential to life

Probably every person alive wished hardships didn’t exist; the idea of having all desires fulfilled as soon as they arose. What would life be like without toil and trouble, though? Would it be perfect? …Or boring? 

Adversities occupy our lives, and we spend our time overcoming them. Hence, they fill a place in our existence. Maybe we should stop assuming they are accidental and avoidable. Instead, let’s accept the form in which suffering manifests itself depends on chance and, without it, another would take its place.

Life was never anything more than a present moment, always vanishing

Nowadays, it’s normal to live for hope, the hope for a better future. Consequently, we concentrate on our past and our longing for change, while striving after things we think will make us happy. We barely make our present the centre of our attention!

The only time we’ve got is now. And it is fleeting. Experience life now, so, in the end, you don’t find yourself miserable and disappointed.

My fellow sufferer

Envy others, feeling content with their misfortune, and other terrible behaviours we may have towards someone else. We’ve all been there. Luckily, we recognise these bad conducts and do our best to avoid them.

All human beings are the same: fellow sufferers. We all go through agony and torment in life. Not to mention we all share the failings of humankind (e.g. folly and vice), even when they do not appear in us at the moment. Therefore, let’s practice tolerance, patience, and love for our neighbours. We need it, and we owe it to everyone else.

What one is, what one has, and what one represents in the eyes of others

Frequently, our happiness relies on our possessions and reputation. What an issue. On the one hand, ‘having’ has a reverse factor: what we have often starts to have us. On the other hand, fame and popularity do not depend on us; they are external.

For that reason, the only aspect we can bank on is our self-worth. It is our values, goals, and inner merit, resulting in personal autonomy and self-esteem, that we should treasure. No one can (nor will) take them away from us. They are in our control and power.

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