The Conquest of Happiness: Bertrand Russell

I enjoy life; I might almost say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more

This is due partly to having discovered what were the things that I most desired and having gradually acquired many of these things

Partly it is due to having successfully dismissed certain objects of desire – such as the acquisition of indubitable knowledge about something or other – as essentially unattainable

But very largely it is due to a diminishing preoccupation with myself. Like others who had a Puritan education, I had the habit of meditating on my sins, follies, and shortcomings. I seemed to myself – no doubt justly – a miserable specimen. Gradually I learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies; I came to centre my attention increasingly upon external objects: the state of the world, various branches of knowledge, individuals for whom I felt affection

Interest in oneself, on the contrary, leads to no activity of a progressive kind

This is the psychology of very many apparently hard-boiled reprobates. What drives them astray is devotion to an unattainable object (mother or mother substitute) together with the inculcation, in early years, of a ridiculous ethical code. Liberation from the tyranny of early beliefs and affections is the first step towards happiness for these victims of maternal ‘virtue’

Consequently, the man whose sole concern with the world is that it shall admire him is not likely to achieve his object. But even if he does, he will not be completely happy, since human instinct is never completely self-centred, and the narcissist is limiting himself artificially just as truly as is the man dominated by a sense of sin

Drunkenness, for example, is temporary suicide; the happiness that it brings is merely negative, a momentary cessation of unhappiness

I do not myself think that there is any superior rationality in being unhappy

The wise man will be as happy as circumstances permit and if he finds the contemplation of the universe painful beyond a point, he will contemplate something else instead

to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness

What people fear when they engage in the struggle is not that they will fail to get their breakfast next morning, but that they will fail to outshine their neighbours

For my part, the thing that I would wish to obtain from money would be leisure with security. But what the typical modern man desires to get with it is more money, with a view to ostentation, splendour, and the outshining of those who have hitherto been his equals

success can only be one ingredient in happiness and is too dearly purchased if all the other ingredients have been sacrificed to obtain it

We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement

some element of boredom is a necessary ingredient in life

There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the avoidance of too much excitement, and too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty

No great achievement is possible without persistent work, so absorbing and so difficult that little energy is left over for the more strenuous kinds of amusement, except such as serve to recuperate physical energy during holidays

The pleasures of childhood should in the main be such as the child extracts from his environment by means of some effort and inventiveness. Pleasures which are exciting and at the same time involve no physical exertion, such, for example, as the theatre, should occur very rarely. The excitement is in the nature of a drug, of which more and more will come to be required, and the physical passivity during the excitement is contrary to instinct

constructive purposes do not easily form themselves in a boy’s mind if he is living a life of distractions and dissipations, for in that case his thoughts will always be directed towards the next pleasure rather than towards the distant achievement

a generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase

A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live.

To escape from nervous fatigue in modern life is a very difficult thing. In the first place, all through working hours, and still more in the time spent between work and home, the urban worker is exposed to noise, most of which, it is true, he learns not to hear consciously, but which none the less wears him out, all the more owing to the subconscious effort involved in not hearing it

Nothing is so exhausting as indecision, and nothing is so futile

Our doings are not so important as we naturally suppose; our successes and failures do not after all matter very much

The trouble with emotional fatigue is that it interferes with rest. The more tired a man becomes, the more impossible he finds it to stop

a young man does well to reflect that he will ultimately be in a position to marry, and that he will be unwise if he lives in such a way as to make a happy marriage impossible, which may easily happen through frayed nerves and an acquired incapacity for the gentler pleasures

One of the worst features of nervous fatigue is that it acts as a sort of screen between a man and the outside world. Impressions reach him, as it were, muffled and muted; he no longer notices people except to be irritated by small tricks or mannerisms; he derives no pleasure from his meals or from the sunshine, but tends to become tensely concentrated upon a few objects and indifferent to all the rest. This state of affairs makes it impossible to rest, so that fatigue continually increases until it reaches a point where medical treatment is required. All this is at bottom a penalty for having lost that contact with Earth

fatigue is a very frequent cause of envy. When a man feels inadequate to the work he has to do, he feels a general discontent which is exceedingly liable to take the form of envy towards those whose work is less exacting. One of the ways of diminishing envy, therefore, is to diminish fatigue. But by far the most important thing is to secure a life which is satisfying to instinct

The pleasure of work is open to anyone who can develop some specialised skill, provided that he can get satisfaction from the exercise of his skill without demanding universal applause

A sense of duty is useful in work, but offensive in personal relations

What hunger is in relation to food, zest is in relation to life

All disenchantment is to me a malady, which, it is true, certain circumstances may render inevitable, but which none the less, when it occurs, is to be cured as soon as possible, not to be regarded as a higher form of wisdom

The more things a man is interested in, the more opportunities of happiness he has, and the less he is at the mercy of fate, since if he loses one thing he can fall back upon another

Life is too short to be interested in everything, but it is good to be interested in as many things as are necessary to fill our days

We are all prone to the malady of the introvert, who, with the manifold spectacle of the world spread out before him, turns away and gazes only upon the emptiness within. But let us not imagine that there is anything grand about the introvert’s unhappiness

The man, therefore, whose attention is turned within finds nothing worthy of his notice, whereas the man whose attention is turned outward can find within, in those rare moments when he examines his soul, the most varied and interesting assortment of ingredients being dissected and recombined into beautiful or instructive patterns

The gormandiser sacrifices all other pleasures to that of eating, and by so doing diminishes the total happiness of his life

The child from whom for any reason parental affection is withdrawn is likely to become timid and unadventurous, filled with fears and self-pity, and no longer able to meet the world in a mood of gay exploration. Such a child may set to work at a surprisingly early age to meditate on life and death and human destiny. He becomes an introvert, melancholy at first, but seeking ultimately the unreal consolations of some system of philosophy or theology. The world is a higgledy-piggledy place, containing things pleasant and things unpleasant in haphazard sequence. And the desire to make an intelligible system or pattern out of it is at bottom an outcome of fear, in fact a kind of agoraphobia or dread of open spaces. Within the four walls of his library the timid student feels safe. If he can persuade himself that the universe is equally tidy, he can feel almost equally safe when he has to venture forth into the streets. Such a man, if he had received more affection, would have feared the real world less, and would not have had to invent an ideal world to take its place in his beliefs

In the best kind of affection a man hopes for a new happiness rather than for escape from an old unhappiness.

It should be our endeavour therefore, both in education and in attempts to adjust ourselves to the world, to aim at avoiding self-centred passions and at acquiring those affections and those interests which will prevent our thoughts from dwelling perpetually upon ourselves

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