The Case for Pessimism

Schopenhauer's Essays and Aphorisms

I’m an optimistic person.

I think we live at the best time in history by basically any measure you use.

Sure we have problems, climate change, social unrest, inequality, but if you so much as cough on a history book you’ll realize that nearly every problem we’re worried about today was much worse before.

But some people are more pessimistic about the world. And that’s what I explored in today’s Nat’s Notes episode.

Should you be a pessimist? Is life ultimately suffering? Is it a selfish, delusional act to bring new life into a world where it’s destined for perpetual pain.

And I explored it through Arthur Schopenhauer “Essays and Aphorisms,” since he’s one of the most influential, impactful philosophical pessimists, and one who ties in beautifully with a couple of the books we’ve covered in previous episodes.

As always, to listen to the audio, subscribe to the Nat’s Notes podcast on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts by searching “Nat’s Notes.”

Here are some of my favorite highlights from the book.

I want to let you know about a new sponsor for the podcast, Equip Foods.

Equip is a supplement company, and what I love about them is the founder, Anthony, is one of the most obsessed people about food quality I’ve ever met.

You probably know that there are a bunch of nutrients, minerals, vitamins, that we just don’t get in our diets anymore. Ideally we wouldn’t need to supplement, but most of us do, because we’re not out hunting for our food and foraging a natural diverse diet.

But, most supplement companies have awful quality standards. They’re doing the equivalent of feeding you table sugar and calling it fruit. That’s why I like Equip, because they do whole-food supplements.

In particular, I take their beef liver capsules every day. I know how insanely good organ meat is for you, but I don’t want to go cook and eat liver every day, so I just take this instead. It’s ground up, freeze dried, grass fed beef liver, basically nature’s original multivitamin.

They’re giving Nat’s Notes listeners 15% off if you want to check them out. Just go to or use the coupon code NAT to get 15% off.

And if beef liver isn’t your thing, they also have an incredible chocolate collagen powder.

How we never notice how good our life is, only when things go wrong:

“We never really notice or become conscious of what is agreeable to our will; if we are to notice something, our will has to have been thwarted, has to have experienced a shock of some kind. On the other hand, all that opposes, frustrates and resists our will, that is to say all that is unpleasant and painful, impresses itself upon us instantly, directly and with great clarity. Just as we are conscious not of the healthiness of our whole body but only of the little place where the shoe pinches, so we think not of the totality of our successful activities but of some insignificant trifle or other which continues to vex us.”

Happiness is just an absence of suffering:

“…the happiness of a given life is not to be measured according to the joys and pleasures it contains but according to the absence of the positive element, the absence of suffering”

The wisdom and folly of mindfulness:

“Every moment of our life belongs to the present only for a moment; then it belongs for ever to the past. Every evening we are poorer by a day. We would perhaps grow frantic at the sight of this ebbing away of our short span of time were we not secretly conscious in the profoundest depths of our being that we share in the inexhaustible well of eternity, out of which we can for ever draw new life and renewed time. You could, to be sure, base on considerations of this kind a theory that the greatest wisdom consists in enjoying the present and making this enjoyment the goal of life, because the present is all that is real and everything else merely imaginary. But you could just as well call this mode of life the greatest folly: for that which in a moment ceases to exist, which vanishes as completely as a dream, cannot be worth any serious effort.”

Why we can never appreciate what we have:

“The scenes of our life resemble pictures in rough mosaic; they are ineffective from close up, and have to be viewed from a distance if they are to seem beautiful. That is why to attain something desired is to discover how vain it is; and why, though we live all our lives in expectation of better things, we often at the same time long regretfully for what is past. The present, on the other hand, is regarded as something quite temporary and serving only as the road to our goal. That is why most men discover when they look back on their life that they have the whole time been living ad interim, and are surprised to see that which they let go by so unregarded and unenjoyed was precisely their life, was precisely that in expectation of which they lived.”

The only twos to be happy:

“we take no pleasure in existence except when we are striving after something - in which case distance and difficulties make our goal look as if it would satisfy us (an illusion which fades when we reach it) - or when engaged in purely intellectual activity, in which case we are really stepping out of life so. as to regard it from outside, like spectators at a play.”

Why you shouldn’t read too much:

“The result is that much reading robs the mind of all elasticity, as the continual pressure of a weight does a spring, and that the surest way of never having any thoughts of your own is to pick up a book every time you have a free moment. The practice of doing this is the reason erudition makes most men duller and sillier than they are by nature and robs their writings of all effectiveness"

Why you shouldn’t write down what you learn in books:

“That you should write down valuable ideas that occur to you as soon as possible goes without saying: we sometimes forget even what we have done, so how much more what we have thought. Thoughts, however, come not when we but when they want. On the other hand, it is better not to copy down what we have received finished and complete from without, what we have merely learned and what can in any case be discovered again in books: for to copy something down is to consign it to forgetfulness. You should deal sternly and despotically with your memory, so that it does not unlearn obedience; if, for example, you cannot call something to mind, a line of poetry or a word perhaps, you should not go and look it up in a book, but periodically plague your memory with it for weeks on end until your memory has done its duty.”

Why you should write clearly:

“Obscurity and vagueness of expression is always and every where a very bad sign: for in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it derives from vagueness of thought, which in turn comes from an original incongruity and inconsistency in the thought itself, and thus from its falsity. If a true thought arises in a head it will immediately strive after clarity and will soon achieve it: what is clearly thought, however, easily finds the expression appropriate to it.”

Why you shouldn’t read the news:

“all newspaper writers are, for the sake of their trade, alarmists: this is their way of making themselves interesting. What they really do, however, is resemble little dogs who, as soon as anything whatever moyes, start up a loud barking. It is necessary, therefore, not to pay too much attention to their alarms, and to realize in general that the newspaper is a magnifying glass, and this only at best: for very often it is no more than a shadow-play on the wall.”

Why the education system is backward

“In accordance with the nature of our intellect, concepts ought to arise through abstraction from our perceptions, consequently perception should precede concept. If this has in fact happened, as it has in the case of the man whose own experience is his only book and teacher, then he knows quite well what perceptions belong to which of his concepts and are represented by them. We may call this 'natural education'. In the case of artificial education, on the contrary, the head is, through lectures, teaching and reading, stuffed full of concepts before there is any wide acquaintanceship with the perceptual world at all. “


Thank you so much for reading.

If you learned something, please forward this to a friend! And don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts by searching “Nat’s Notes.”

I’ll return next week with another fascinating book to share.