The Conquest of Happiness- Bertrand Russell
“Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.”
The Quotatist is a publication where I curate insightful quotes and passages from interesting books and historical letters
About “The Conquest of Happiness”
The Conquest of Happiness is Bertrand Russell’s prescription for good living. First published in 1930, it pre-dates the current obsession with self-help by decades. Leading the reader step by step through the causes of unhappiness and the personal choices, compromises and sacrifices that (may) lead to happiness, this book was the original grand daddy of self help books, with Bertrand Russell’s trademark humour.
Our fear of public opinion interferes with our happiness
“One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways.”
We are not as good as we think we are, neither are others interested in us as much as we think they are
“These illustrations suggest four general maxims.
The first is: remember that your motives are not always as altruistic as they seem to yourself.
The second is: don’t over-estimate your own merits.
The third is: don’t expect others to take as much interest in you as you do yourself.
And the fourth is: don’t imagine that most people give enough thought to you to have any special desire to persecute you.”
Embracing imperfections without the veil of illusion is critical for our happiness
“If we were all given by magic the power to read each other’s thoughts, I suppose the first effect would be almost all friendships would be dissolved; the second effect, however, might be excellent, for a world without any friends would be felt to be intolerable, and we should learn to like each other without needing a veil of illusion to conceal from ourselves that we did not think each other absolutely perfect.”
Experiences are our best authors
“To all the talented young men who wander about feeling that there is nothing in the world for them to do, I should say: ‘Give up trying to write, and, instead, try not to write. Go out into the world; become a pirate, a king in Borneo, a labourer in Soviet Russia; give yourself an existence in which the satisfaction of elementary physical needs will occupy almost all your energies.’ I do not recommend this course of action to everyone, but only to those who suffer from the disease which Mr Krutch diagnoses. I believe that, after some years of such an existence, the ex-intellectual will find that in spite of his efforts he can no longer refrain from writing, and when this time comes his writing will not seem to him futile.”
Hatred is fuelled from what we think we missed out on in life
“Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling? The reason is clearly that the human heart as modern civilisation has made it is more prone to hatred than to friendship. And it is prone to hatred because it is dissatisfied, because it feels deply, perhaps even unconsciously, that it has somehow missed the meaning of life, that perhaps others, but not we ourselves, have secured the good things which nature offers man’s enjoyment.”
Absence of struggle does not create happiness in us
“The feeling is one born of a too easy satisfaction of natural needs. The human animal, like others, is adapted to a certain amount of struggle for life, and when by means of great wealth homo sapiens can gratify all his whims without effort, the mere absence of effort from his life removes an essential ingredient of happiness. The man who acquires easily things for which he feels only a very moderate desire concludes that the attainment of desire does not bring happiness. If he is of a philosophic disposition, he concludes that human life is essentially wretched, since the man who has all he wants is still unhappy. He forgets that to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”
Missing out on opportunities that teach us something is a failure of our privilege
“Each of us is in the world for no very long time, and within the few years of his life has to acquire whatever he is to know of this strange planet and its place in the universe. To ignore our opportunities for knowledge, imperfect as they are, is like going to the theatre and not listening to the play. The world is full of things that are tragic or comic, heroic or bizarre or surprising, and those who fail to be interested in the spectacle that it offers are forgoing one of the privileges that life has to offer.”