The Utility of Pessimism

As a reliable compass for orientating yourself in life nothing is more useful than to accustom yourself to regarding this world as a place of atonement, a sort of penal colony. When you have done this you will order your expectations of life according to the nature of things and no longer regard the calamities, sufferings, torments and miseries of life as something irregular and not to be expected but will find them entirely in order, well knowing that each of us is here being punished for his existence and each in his own particular way. This outlook will enable us to view the so-called imperfections of the majority of men (i.e. their moral and intellectual shortcomings and the facial appearance resulting therefrom) without surprise and certainly without indignation: for we shall always bear in mind where we are and consequently regard every man first and foremost as a being who exists as a consequence of his culpability and whose life is an expiation of the crime of being born.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer is regarded as one of the most pessimistic philosophers, a sentiment clearly demonstrated in the above quote from his work Essays and Aphorisms. Despite this obviously negative view of the human experience, let’s dissect this quote and see what we can learn.

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Accepting the Absurdity of Life

He who despairs of the human condition is a coward, but he who has hope for it is a fool.

Albert Camus

The tragedies of life — a plane crash, a baby born with a terminal condition — can make one cry out, “Why, God?”. It is safe to assume one cannot expect any answer back from the heavens. The almost brutal indifference the world can show to our dreams and our prayers leads one to think that life is absurd. The French existentialist Albert Camus (1913-1960) likens the human condition to that of Sisyphus in Greek mythology:

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Building Your Personal Monopoly

In a genuinely developed society, work is an essential dimension of social life, for it is not only a means of earning one’s daily bread, but also of personal growth, the building of healthy relationships, self-expression and the exchange of gifts. Work gives us a sense of shared responsibility for the development of the world, and ultimately, for our life as a people.

Pope Francis

With the exception of a select few, everyone must work. It is the bedrock of our civilization — through working we are able to obtain and sustain the lifestyles that we wish for ourselves and our future kin. We spend so much of our life working that it inevitably becomes part of who we are and who we become. For this reason, we must look deeper into our relationship with work, past the superficial premise of the exchange of time for money, to find the meaningful work that we all need.

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The Office

“Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves — their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.”

~ Peter Drucker


Most people by their mid-20s, and perhaps well into their 30s, are deeply engaged in the process of career-building. This process is pretty much non-negotiable, and if one does not deliberately seek out a fitting and fulfilling career, one will simply be forced upon them in due time. It is therefore important to assess oneself to identify the career that maximizes one’s potential.

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La Vita Nuova

I heard this poem in a podcast several weeks ago — it was written by Manolis Kellis, a professor in computer science at MIT who works in the field of computational biology. He wrote this poem as a young man for his high school yearbook; it is about goodbyes and the transformations that take place during major transitional periods of one’s journey through life.

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The Waiting Game

“Life has many ways of testing a person’s will — either by having nothing happen at all, or by having everything happen at once.”

~ Paulo Coelho


I have looked for some time now — in history and literature, on the internet, in the stories of those around me — and have concluded that there is no right path in life. Life simply is. In the end, we all become dust and bones; whichever path you take, that is uniquely yours, is the path you are meant to be on. The journey is your own, the luggage yours to hold. That being said, a lack of tangible evidence to confirm one’s actions are moving them towards the intended goal is disheartening. I would like to believe that you get out what you put into life, but sometimes the race seems to go on and the finish line evermore obscure.

I recently stumbled across a poem by a First Nations chief that I wish to share; I hope it has the same effect on you that it had on me.

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The Fog of War

“…for it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy.”

~ Thucydides


Most people, myself included, are so entrenched in their belief systems that they refuse to open themselves up to any alternative reality. We also tend to connect and associate with those who share similar views with us, thereby reinforcing them. Such an entrenchment can be further reinforced by confirmation bias, the tendency to search, interpret and favour information that confirms our beliefs and values. The effects of such a cognitive bias manifest in many forms within our society, for example in the partisan nature of our political landscapes.

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The Denial of Death

“Come to terms with death. Thereafter, anything is possible.”

~ Albert Camus


In A Man’s Search for Meaning, one of the main themes proposed by Viktor Frankl in his theory of logotherapy was the idea that one’s search meaning in life is the primary motivational force in life. It is important to acknowledge that the temporal limitation of life is an integral component to such a force: the meaning to human life is predicated on an inevitable death. It is really this inevitable, looming death that truly motivates us, that provides the impetus for all human endeavour. Our consciousness of death, despite our best attempts to ignore it, is what propels us to create and act in the world; it alone gives meaning to every moment through the mere fact that it could be your last. We no longer are forced to confront death anymore: the death of our fellow humans largely happen in hospitals; the food we eat is processed in farms and factories far away from our own homes. This dissociation from the process of death leads one to grow up without ever needing to truly contemplate the limitations of our existence. This possibly adds to the shock and grief felt when we inevitably lose those close to us.

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The Art of Slowing Down

“Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.”
~ John Lennon


It seems to me that our modern culture values quantity over quality. We are over-concerned with how much we can get done or obtain in the shortest space of time; there is a latent joy in slowing down, being present and appreciating each passing moment.

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Book Review: A Man’s Search for Meaning

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

~ Viktor E. Frankl, A Man’s Search for Meaning


I recently joined a book club, and the book for my first session was A Man’s Search for Meaning, a book I had purchased many months ago and never got around to. It is one that I knew I would enjoy given its psychological and existential themes, and it did not disappoint. I learned much from this short yet powerful book, and its relevance is everlasting.

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