He goes onto define happiness in terms of the absence of pain rather than obtaining pleasure:
To estimate a man’s condition in regard to happiness, it is necessary to ask, not what things please him, but what things trouble him; and the more trivial these things are in themselves, the happier the man will be. To be irritated by trifles, a man must be well off; for in misfortunes trifles are unfelt.
Now this is a seemingly paradoxical statement, but it makes some sense. If one is starving to death, trivial things will not matter. To even take notice of trivial inconvenience is evidence of privilege. If I am starving, I will not much care if something is out of place: I will care about obtaining food. When one comes to their death bed, even bill collectors are irrelevant.
This observation is true, but I don’t see how that is really conducive to any sort of happiness. I would think one should draw the opposite conclusion, especially from Schopenhauer’s ready pessimism. Seeing that we are all soon to die, and everything will decay, why ignore all trivialities and look at them now as we will look at them upon our death bed. We will soon enough be dead, so why sweat anything at the present?
In the opposite direction, he counsels we should set out happiness very few:
Care should be taken not to build the happiness of life upon a broad foundation–not to require a great many things in order to be happy. For happiness on such a foundation is the most easily undermined; it offers many more opportunities for accidents; and accidents are always happening.
Paul makes an argument which has a similar structure:
1 Timothy 6:6–10 (ESV)
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
The similarity lies in the realization that we will die and this world is uncertain. Therefore, we should expect to obtain very little from this life. Indeed, an overarching desire to have happiness fixed upon the fleeting things of this world will lead to ruin and sorrow.
But Paul couches the argument in a different context. Schopenhauer sees life as transitory, but there is no sense of redemption of the transitory. Paul sets content on very little within the context of godliness. The Christian hope is not that this world in its present cursed form will be made permanent, but rather that the world will be remade:
Romans 8:18 (ESV)
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
It is worth noting that the Hebrew word for “glory” is a word which has the sense of “heavy” or substantial. Paul is writing to the Romans in Greek (and he next raises the issue of the vanity of the creation), but the concept of glory developed in the OT would affect his thinking.
And so to compare and contrast Schopenhauer and Paul: They both see life as resting on vanity; the world will decay and we will die. But realize that the things of this world cannot be trusted. The difference is that Schopenhauer sees the decay the as the end. There is not any real point in this world except perhaps to be made sadder and wiser:
Men of any worth or value soon come to see that they are in the hands of Fate, and gratefully submit to be moulded by its teachings. They recognize that the fruit of life is experience, and not happiness; they become accustomed and content to exchange hope for insight; and, in the end, they can say, with Petrarch, that all they care for is to learn:–
When we are actually doing some great deed, or creating some immortal work, we are not conscious of it as such; we think only of satisfying present aims, of fulfilling the intentions we happen to have at the time, of doing the right thing at the moment. It is only when we come to view our life as a connected whole that our character and capacities show themselves in their true light; that we see how, in particular instances, some happy inspiration, as it were, led us to choose the only true path out of a thousand
But it is hard to say that there is anything good in this wisdom:
Ecclesiastes 2:12–17 (ESV)
12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
Wisdom is very little worth if the only thing it can do is make me aware that I will die and all things are pointless. Merely managing my sorrows and disappointments may give me some equanimity; or it may just be boring. How do you measure the relative “happiness” of a life spent avoiding pain (Schopenhauer), plunging into pleasure and pain (Shelley). That seems more a matter of taste and temperament than better or worse.
It is at this point, the Christian view is profoundly different. Yes, the world is vain; we will die: the creation, after all, is under a curse. Therefore, let us be content with food and clothing in this world; and – here is the distinction – and hope for redemption:
Romans 8:19–25 (ESV)
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Schopenhauer can at most help one whistle past the graveyard. It is a sort of sour grapes philosophy. You’ll just make me sad, anyway.
The Christian answer however takes an equally steel-eyed view of the world and its pain and says that it will be transformed. The answer matches perfectly to the loss. That is either the mark of its truth or its utter fraudulence. The resurrection is the perfect answer to death. Death is a horror turned inside-out.
(There is another issue here: how can any future answer to individual horrors of this life? How can disease which ravages a child, or slavery, or abuse be answered for? Too often the answer sounds like, Let me beat you senseless, but I’ll make it okay by giving you some money afterwards. That is not the right answer; nor is it the promise of glory. But that is for another time.)