Society

Pursuit of happiness

Wilhelm Schmid

Wilhelm Schmid   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

German philosopher Wilhelm Schmid on the art of living

“Where am I at this particular juncture in my life? What am I to expect? How can I prepare myself for it? What lies within my power, and what doesn’t? This is where the art of living comes in, understood as a certain awareness that will allow us to find meaning in this life stage as well...” says Wilhelm Schmid, winner of the German Prize for Outstanding Services in Conveying Philosophy to the Public, explaining the central focus of his philosophical explorations. One of the world’s foremost practical philosophers, he was recently in Kerala to release the Malayalam translation of his international best selling work, Gelassenheit (Serenity).

Happiness has been the single constant object of human pursuit since ancient times. In fact, even today, the more modern and metropolitan we are, the more obsessed we have become with the desire to be happy. To be happy, we read books. We use the social media, go out with friends, go shopping. We turn to mostly unhealthy food experiences, we seek out life-threatening adventures, we even break free from norms.

We no longer believe unhappiness to be an inevitable part of our lives, and rather than accept whatever comes to us in life, we believe we can change our fate and control our lives. Thus, often our entire existence becomes an unfulfilled struggle against unhappiness, which leaves us even more unhappy.

Drawing upon the traditions of great philosophers like John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault, Schmid has developed a comprehensive philosophy of what he calls the “art of living” which looks at how the basic concepts of happiness, friendship, love, old age, parenting, and so on should be unlearnt and re-invented to enable us to have a beautiful life, as against our goal of a successful life.

Comprehensive outlook

Schmid’s philosophy of the art of living for our time provides a comprehensive and unconventional outlook on the tyranny of happiness in modern, urban societies. Happiness is certainly important, but to do meaningful things in life is even more important. Even if it means bringing up on yourself some strain, pain and unhappiness. A completely happy and successful life is an illusion. The real challenge in life is not how to be happy, but how to come to terms with failure, social pressure, loss and unhappiness. Not just to bear unhappiness grudgingly, but to accept it wholeheartedly, live through it and learn and grow from it. Of his many “slim volumes”, two of the most popular ones in English are High and Low and What We Gain as We Grow Older.

Schmid’s views on ageing are timely and relevant to a world growing old. He says, “Learning to live with one’s own ageing is the new task: making an art of what once was a given – growing older; turning our society’s anti-ageing bias into a true art of ageing that will enable us to live with rather than against the inevitable.”

The importance of touch

Expanding on the importance of touch in self-care, he says, “Touch is a form of attention without which we would wither and die in body and soul. The less we are touched, the more we become strangers to ourselves and others, and, ultimately, to the world at large.”

Schmid advocates a humanistic return to the conception of life as continuously evolving and multidimensional, embracing even the negative aspects of existence. This is against the modern capitalistic notions of perfection and positivity. The subversive elements of Schmid’s philosophy validate failures and various forms of unhappiness as inevitable, which can be overcome by sharing and caring within the society. It focuses on the little subjective things in everyday life that constitute the “art of living”. Schmid’s views on beautiful living have tremendous implications on urban life and education.

Schmid was in Kerala at the invitation of Goethe Zentrum, Thiruvananthapuram. His lectures at The Institute of English, Karyavattam, and Government Women’s College in the capital city, introduced the audience to his philosophical concepts and recommendations for a truly fulfilling life.

The author is an entrepreneur, teacher and director of Total English Solutions in Thiruvananthapuram

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 9:28:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/interview-with-german-philosopher-wilhelm-schmid/article23431765.ece

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