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Bertrand Russell : The Road to Happiness, 1952

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Bertrand Russell Quotes 366
For over two thousand years it has been the custom among earnest moralists to decry happiness as something degraded and unworthy. The Stoics, for centuries, attacked Epicurus, who preached happiness; they said that his was a pig's philosophy, and showed their superior virtue by inventing scandalous lies about him. One of them, Cleanthes, wanted Aristarchus persecuted for advocating the Copernican system of astronomy; another, Marcus Aurelius, persecuted the Christians; one of the most famous of them, Seneca, abetted Nero's abominations, amassed a vast fortune, and lent money to Boadicea at such an exorbitant rate of interest that she was driven into rebellion. So much for antiquity. Skipping the next 2,000 years, we come to the German professors who invented the disastrous theories that led Germany to its downfall and the rest of the world to its present perilous state; all these learned men despised happiness, as did their British imitator, Carlyle, who is never weary of telling us that we ought to eschew happiness in favor of blessedness. He found blessedness in rather odd places: Cromwell's Irish massacres, Frederick the Great's bloodthirsty perfidy, and Governor Eyre's Jamaican brutality. In fact, contempt for happiness is usually contempt for other people's happiness, and is an elegant disguise for hatred of the human race. Even when a man genuinely sacrifices his own happiness in favor of something that he thinks nobler, he is apt to remain envious of those who enjoy a lesser degree of nobility, and this envy will, all too often, make those who think themselves saints cruel and destructive. In our day the most important examples of this mentality are the Communists.
People who have theories as to how one should live tend to forget the limitations of nature. If your way of life involves constant restraint of impulse for the sake of some one supreme aim that you have set yourself, it is likely that the aim will become increasingly distasteful because of the efforts that it demands; impulse, denied its normal outlets, will find others, probably in spite; pleasure, if you allow yourself any at all, will be dissociated from the main current of your life, and will become Bacchic and frivolous. Such pleasure brings no happiness, but only a deeper despair.
It is a commonplace among moralists that you cannot get happiness by pursuing it. This is only true if you pursue it unwisely. Gamblers at Monte Carlo are pursuing money, and most of them lose it instead, but there are other ways of pursuing money which often succeed. So it is with happiness. If you pursue it by means of drink, you are forgetting the hangover. Epicurus pursued it by living in congenial society and eating only dry bread, supplemented by a little cheese on feast days. His method proved successful, in his case, but he was a valetudinarian, and most people would need something more vigorous. For most people, the pursuit of happiness, unless supplemented in various ways, is too abstract and theoretical to be adequate as a personal rule of life. But I think that whatever personal rule of life you may choose, it should not, except in rare heroic cases, be incompatible with happiness.
There are a great many people who have the material conditions of happiness, i.e. health and a sufficient income, and who, nevertheless, are profoundly unhappy. This is especially true in America. In such cases it would seem as if the fault must lie with a wrong theory as to how to live. In one sense we may say that any theory as to how to live is wrong. We imagine ourselves more different from the animals than we are. Animals live on impulse, and are happy as long as external conditions are favorable. If you have a cat, it will enjoy life if it has food and warmth and opportunities for an occasional night on the tiles. Your needs are more complex than those of your cat, but they still have their basis in instinct. In civilized societies, especially in English-speaking societies, this is too apt to be forgotten. People propose to themselves some one paramount objective, and restrain all impulses that do not minister to it. A businessman may be so anxious to grow rich that to this end he sacrifices health and the private affections. When at last he has become rich, no pleasure remains to him except harrying other people by exhortations to imitate his noble example. Many rich ladies, although nature has not endowed them with any spontaneous pleasure in literature or art, decide to be thought cultured, and spend boring hours learning the right thing to say about fashionable new books. It does not occur to them that books are written to give delight, not to afford opportunities for a dusty snobbism.
If you look about you at the men and women whom you can call happy, you will see that they all have certain things in common. The most important of these things is an activity which at most times is enjoyable on its own account, and which, in addition, gradually builds up something that you are glad to see coming into existence. Women who take an instinctive pleasure in their children (which many women, especially educated women, do not) can get this kind of satisfaction out of bringing up a family. Artists and authors and men of science get happiness in this way if their own work seems good to them. But there are many humbler forms of the same kind of pleasure. Many men who spend their working life in the City devote their weekends to voluntary and unremunerated toil in their gardens, and when the spring comes they experience all the joys of having created beauty.
It is impossible to be happy without activity, but it is also impossible to be happy if the activity is excessive or of a repulsive kind. Activity is agreeable when it is directed very obviously to a desired end and is not in itself contrary to impulse. A dog will pursue rabbits to the point of complete exhaustion and be happy all the time, but if you put the dog on a treadmill and gave him a good dinner after half an hour, he would not be happy till he got the dinner, because he would not have been engaged in a natural activity meanwhile. One of the difficulties of our time is that, in a complex modern society, few of the things that have to be done have the naturalness of hunting. The consequence is that most people, in a technically advanced community, have to find their happiness outside the work by which they make their living. And if their work is exhausting their pleasures will tend to be passive. Watching a football match or going to the cinema leaves little satisfaction afterward, and does not in any degree gratify creative impulses. The satisfaction of the players, who are active, is of quite a different order.
The wish to be respected by neighbors and the fear of being despised by them drive men and women (especially women) into ways of behavior which are not prompted by any spontaneous impulse. The person who is always "correct" is always bored, or almost always. It is heartrending to watch mothers teaching their children to curb their joy of life and become sedate puppets, lest they should be thought to belong to a lower social class than that to which their parents aspire.
The pursuit of social success, in the form of prestige or power or both, is the most important obstacle to happiness in a competitive society. I am not denying that success is an ingredient in happiness to some, a very important ingredient. But it does not, by itself, suffice to satisfy most people. You may be rich and admired, but if you have no friends, no interests, no spontaneous useless pleasures, you will be miserable. Living for social success is one form of living by a theory, and all living by theory is dusty and desiccating.
If a man or woman who is healthy and has enough to eat is to be happy, there is need of two things that, at first sight, might seem antagonistic. There is need, first, of a stable framework built round a central purpose, and second, of what may be called "play," that is to say, of things that are done merely because they are fun, and not because they serve some serious end. The settled framework must be an embodiment of fairly constant impulses, e.g. those connected with family or work. If the family has become steadily hateful, or the work uniformly irksome, they can no longer bring happiness; but it is worth while to endure occasional hatefulness or irksomeness if they are not felt continually. And they are much less likely to be felt continually if advantage is taken of opportunities for "play."
The whole subject of happiness has, in my opinion, been treated too solemnly. It has been thought that men cannot be happy without a theory of life or a religion. Perhaps those who have been rendered unhappy by a bad theory may need a better theory to help them to recovery, just as you may need a tonic when you have been ill. But when things are normal a man should be healthy without a tonic and happy without a theory. It is the simple things that really matter. If a man delights in his wife and children, has success in work, and finds pleasure in the alternation of day and night, spring and autumn, he will be happy whatever his philosophy may be. If, on the other hand, he finds his wife hateful, his children's noise unendurable, and the office a nightmare; if in the daytime he longs for night, and at night he sighs for the light of day--then what he needs is not a new philosophy but a new regimen--a different diet, or more exercise, or what not. Man is an animal, and his happiness depends upon his physiology more than he likes to think. This is a humble conclusion, but I cannot make myself disbelieve it. Unhappy businessmen, I am convinced, would increase their happiness more by walking six miles every day than by any conceivable change of philosophy. This, incidentally, was the opinion of Jefferson, who on this ground deplored the horse. Language would have failed him if he could have foreseen the motor car.