The Conquest of Happiness

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The Conquest of Happiness (1930) is a book by Bertrand Russell.

Quotes[edit]

The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.
  • In adolescence, I hated life and was continually on the verge of suicide, from which, however, I was restrained by the desire to know more mathematics. Now, on the contrary, 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.
    • Ch. 1: What Makes People Unhappy?
  • The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men of history.
    • Ch. 1: What Makes People Unhappy?
  • Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact.
    • Ch. 1: What Makes People Unhappy?
To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.
Drunkenness is temporary suicide.
  • A man may feel so completely thwarted that he seeks no form of satisfaction, but only distraction and oblivion. He then becomes a devotee of "pleasure." That is to say, he seeks to make life bearable by becoming less alive. Drunkenness, for example, is temporary suicide: the happiness that it brings is merely negative, a momentary cessation of unhappiness.
    • Ch. 1: What Makes People Unhappy?
  • Or, again, watch people at a gay evening. All come determined to be happy, with the kind of grim resolve with which one determines not to make a fuss at the dentist's. It is held that drink and petting are the gateways to joy, so people get drunk quickly, and try not to notice how much their partners disgust them. After a sufficient amount of drink, men begin to weep, and to lament how unworthy they are, morally, of the devotion of their mothers. All that alcohol does for them is to liberate the sense of sin, which reason suppresses in saner moments.
    • Ch. 1: What Makes People Unhappy?
  • We must distinguish between a mood and its intellectual expression. There is no arguing with mood; it can be changed by some fortunate event, or by a change in our bodily condition, but it cannot be changed by argument.
    • Ch. 2: Byronic Unhappiness.
  • To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.
    • Ch. 2: Byronic Unhappiness.
  • If either the absence or the presence of novelty is equally annoying, it would hardly seem that either could be the true cause of despair.
    • Ch. 2: Byronic Unhappiness.
  • As for the painfulness of leaving things to one’s heir, that is a matter that may be looked at from two points of view: from the point of view of the heir it is distinctly less disastrous.
    • Ch. 2: Byronic Unhappiness.
  • If one lived for ever the joys of life would inevitably in the end lose their savour. As it is, they remain perennially fresh.
    • Ch. 2: Byronic Unhappiness.
  • The habit of looking to the future and thinking that the whole meaning of the present lies in what it will bring forth is a pernicious one. There can be no value in the whole unless there is value in the parts. Life is not to be conceived on the analogy of a melodrama in which the hero and heroine go through incredible misfortunes for which they are compensated by a happy ending. I live and have my day, my son succeeds me and has his day, his son in turn succeeds him. What is there in all this to make a tragedy about?
    • Ch. 2: Byronic Unhappiness.
  • Most literary men is obsessed with the idea that science has not fulfilled its promises. They do not, of course, tell us what these promises were. This is an entire delusion, fostered by those writers and clergymen who do not wish their specialties to be thought of little value.
    • Ch. 2: Byronic Unhappiness.
One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important.
  • If you ask any man in America, or any man in business in England, what is it that most interferes with his enjoyment of existence, he will say: 'The struggle for life.' He will say this in all sincerity; he will believe it. In a certain sense it is true; yet in another, and that a very important sense, it is profoundly false. The struggle for life is a thing which does, of course, occur. It may occur to any of us, if we are unfortunate. It occurred, for example, to Conrad's hero Falk, who found himself on a derelict ship, one of the two men among the crew who were possessed of fire-arms, with nothing to eat but the other men. When the two men had finished the meals upon which they could agree, a true struggle for life began. Falk won, but was ever after a vegetarian. Now that is not what the businessmen means when he speaks of the 'struggle for life'. It is an inaccurate phrase which he has picked up in order to give dignity to something essentially trivial. Ask him how many men he has known in his class of life who have died of hunger. Ask him what happened to his friends after they had been ruined. Everybody knows a businessman who has been ruined is better off so far as material comforts are concerned than a man who has never been rich enough to have the chance of being ruined. What people mean, therefore, by the struggle for life is really the struggle for success. 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.
    • Ch. 3: Competition.
  • The working life of the businessman has the psychology of a hundred-yards race, but as the race upon which he is engaged is one whose only goal is the grave, the concentration, which is appropriate enough for a hundred yards, becomes in the end somewhat excessive.
    • Ch. 3: Competition.
  • The businessman's religion and glory demand that he should make much money; therefore, like the Hindu widow, he suffers the torment gladly.
    • Ch. 3: Competition.
  • 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.
    • Ch. 3: Competition.
  • I do not deny that the feeling of success makes it easier to enjoy life.... Nor do I deny that money, up to a certain point, is very capable of increasing happiness. What I do maintain is that success can only be one ingredient in happiness, and is too dearly purchased if all the other ingredients have been sacrificed to obtain it.
    • Ch. 3: Competition.
There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.
  • There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.
    • Ch. 3: Competition
  • Young men and young women meet each other with much less difficulty than was formerly the case, and every housemaid expects at least once a week as much excitement as would have lasted a Jane Austen heroine throughout a whole novel.
    • Ch. 4: Boredom and Excitement
  • Boredom is therefore a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.
    • Ch. 4: Boredom and Excitement
  • 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.
    • Ch. 4: Boredom and Excitement
  • The wise man thinks about his troubles only when there is some purpose in doing so; at other times he thinks about other things, or, if it is night, about nothing at all.
    • Ch. 5: Fatigue
  • One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important.
    • Ch. 5: Fatigue
  • If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.
    • Ch. 5: Fatigue
  • All forms of fear produce fatigue.
    • Ch. 5: Fatigue
Envy is the basis of democracy.
  • Envy is the basis of democracy.
    • Ch. 6: Envy
  • The essentials of human happiness are simple, so simple that sophisticated people cannot bring themselves to admit what it is they really lack.
    • Ch. 6: Envy
  • Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?
    • Ch. 6: Envy
  • To find the right road out of this despair civilised man must enlarge his heart as he has enlarged his mind. He must learn to transcend self, and in so doing to acquire the freedom of the Universe.
    • Ch. 6: Envy
  • The happiness that is genuinely satisfying is accompanied by the fullest exercise of our faculties, and the fullest realisation of the world in which we live.
    • Ch. 7: The sense of sin
  • If we were all given by magic the power to read each other's thoughts I suppose the first effect would be that almost all friendships would be dissolved.
    • Ch. 8: Persecution Mania
  • [R]emember that your motives are not always as altruistic as they seem to yourself... don't overestimate your own merits... don't expect others to take as much interest in you as you do in yourself.
    • Ch. 8: Persecution Mania
  • No satisfaction based upon self-deception is solid, and, however unpleasant the truth may be, it is better to face it once for all, to get used to it, and to proceed to build your life in accordance with it.
    • Ch. 8: Persecution Mania
Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention, largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves.
  • Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention, largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves.
    • Ch. 9: Fear of Public Opinion
  • 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.
    • Ch. 9: Fear of Public Opinion
  • Happiness is promoted by associations of persons with similar tastes and similar opinions.
    • Ch. 9: Fear of Public Opinion
  • With the introduction of agriculture mankind entered upon a long period of meanness, misery, and madness, from which they are only now being freed by the beneficent operation of the machine.
    • Ch. 10: Is Happiness Still Possible?
  • The most intelligent young people in Western countries tend to have that kind of unhappiness that comes of finding no adequate employment for their best talents.
    • Ch. 10: Is Happiness Still Possible?
  • A sense of duty is useful in work but offensive in personal relations. People wish to be liked, not to be endured with patient resignation.
    • Ch. 10: Is Happiness Still Possible?
  • If all our happiness is bound up entirely in our personal circumstances it is difficult not to demand of life more than it has to give.
    • Ch. 10: Is Happiness Still Possible?
  • The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.
    • Ch. 10: Is Happiness Still Possible?
  • 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.
    • Ch. 11: Zest
  • The man who likes chess sufficiently to look forward throughout his working day to the game that he will play in the evening is fortunate, but the man who gives up work in order to play chess all day has lost the virtue of moderation. It is recorded that Tolstoy, in his younger and unregenerate days, was awarded the military cross for valour in the field, but when the time came for him to be presented with it, he was so absorbed in a game of chess that he decided not to go. We can hardly find fault with Tolstoy on this account, since to him it might well be a matter of indifference whether he won military decorations or not, but in a lesser man such an act would have been one of folly.
    • Ch. 11: Zest
  • 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 partern 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 libary 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, ff 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.
    • Ch. 12: Affection
  • Many people when they fall in love look for a little haven of refuge from the world, where they can be sure of being admired when they are not admirable, and praised when they are not praiseworthy.
    • Ch. 12: Affection
  • In the best kind of affection a man hopes for a new happiness rather than for escape from an old unhappiness.
    • Ch. 12: Affection
To ignore our opportunities for knowledge, imperfect as they are, is like going to the theatre and not listening to the play.
Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.
  • [T]he only sex relations that have real value are those in which there is no reticence and in which the whole personality of both becomes merged in a new collective personality. Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.
    • Ch. 12: Affection
  • For my own part, speaking personally, I have found the happiness of parenthood greater than any other that I have experienced.
    • Ch. 13: The family
  • 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.
    • Ch. 13: The family
  • To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level.
  • Work, therefore, is desirable, first and foremost, as a preventive of boredom, for the boredom that a man feels when he is doing necessary though uninteresting work is as nothing in comparison with the boredom that he feels when he has nothing to do with his days.
    • Ch. 14: Work
  • To ignore our opportunities for knowledge, imperfect as they are, is like going to the theatre and not listening to the play.
    • Ch. 15: Impersonal interests
  • All our affections are at the mercy of death, which may strike down those whom we love at any moment. It is therefore necessary that our lives should not have that narrow intensity which puts the whole meaning and purpose of our life at the mercy of accident. For all these reasons 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.
    • Ch. 15: Impersonal interests
  • [The happy] man feels himself a citizen of the universe, enjoying freely the spectacle that it offers and the joys 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.
    • Ch. 17: The happy man.

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