Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Conquest of Happiness - Bertrand Russell

Philosopher. logician, mathematician, writer, nobleman, Bertrand Russell gives his views on the conquest of happiness in this book. In the beginning he looks at the causes of unhappiness. These range from Byronic Unhappiness, Competition, Boredom and Excitement, Fatigue, Envy, Sense of sin, Persecution mania and Fear of public opinion. Then he moves to examine the causes of happiness. Here he examines Zest, Affection, Family, Work, Impersonal interests, Effort and Resignation. Russell speaks the language that we know and can relate to and does not beat us with facts, research and new phrases. His wisdom can be sampled through some of the lines I liked. I have decided to skip the causes of unhappiness here though that part contains many truths too.

"Zest demands energy more than that sufficient for the necessary work, and this in turn demands the smooth working of the psychological machine."

"The best type of affection is reciprocally life-giving; each receives with joy and gives without much effort, and each finds the whole world more interesting in consequence of this reciprocal happiness."

"Of all cautions, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness."

"I have found the happiness of parenthood greater than any I have experienced."

"To be happy in this world especially when youth is past, it is necessary to feel oneself not merely an isolated individual whose day will soon be over, but part of the stream of life flowing on from the first germ to the remote and unknown future."  

"Motherhood should not cut her off from all other interests and pursuits."

"Work is desirable as a preventive of boredom."

"Two chief elements make work interesting: the exercise of skill, and second, construction."

"Few things are so likely to cure the habit of hatred as the opportunity to do constructive work of an important kind."

"Consistent purpose is not enough to make life  happy, but it is an almost indispensable condition of a happy life. And consistent purpose embodies itself mainly in work."

"The man who pursues happiness wisely will aim at the possession of a number of subsidiary interests in addition to those central ones upon which his life is built."

"The best cure is not to have only one picture, but a whole gallery."

Finally he concludes what the happy man is best doing.

'Undoubtedly we should desire the happiness of those we love but not as an alternative to our own.'

"The happy man is the man who lives objectively, who has free affections and wide interests, who secures his happiness through these interests and affections and through the fact that they, in turn, make him an object of interest and affection to many others."

 In the last few lines he sums it all - 'All unhappiness depends upon some kind of disintegration or lack of integration; there is disintegration within the self through lack of coordination   between the conscious and unconscious mind; there is a lack of integration between the self and society where the two are not knit together by the force of objective interests and affections.

The happy man is the man who does not suffer from either of these failures of unity, whose personality is neither divided against itself nor pitted against the world. Such a an feels himself a citizen of the universe, enjoying freely the spectacle that it offers and the joy that it affords, untroubled by the thought of death because he feels himself not really separate from those who will come after him. It is in such profound instinctive union with the stream of life that the greatest joy is to be found.'

It is a self-help book no doubt and gives clear advise. Published in 1930 it makes sense in an old-fashioned way mainly because of the absence of the I-know, research-proves-this, kind of stuff.It is also interesting to note how so many issues seem contemporary even today, children, family, parenting, economics, education, persecution, fear of god, fear of the public opinion, guilt etc. Happy seems to be the man who has one thought, who cares but for his one thought, be it for himself or another, who does not therefore experience, guilt nor shame, and who acts and enjoys the fruit of his acts. For him love, life, sex, happiness merge and emerge from one another and he will find joy in all that he does.

Russel lived a full life - 1972-1970. Born into an aristocratic and well off family, he experienced the death of his mother, older sister and father within the first few years of his life and spent much of his growing life with  his grandparents.He had suicidal instincts (mentioned briefly in this book) and was probably saved by the introduction of Euclid by his brother Frank. Russell had strong views on war (was anti-war), nuclear disarmament, Zionism and so on and went to prison for his protests. He married four times, had several children, wrote much (won the Nobel prize for Literature), travelled widely and was a friend of Krishna Menon. He apparently acted as himself in an Indian movie titled Aman.

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