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?
  • Vanity, when it passes beyond a point, kills pleasure in every activity for its own sake, and thus leads inevitably to listlessness and boredom. Often its source is diffidence, and its cure lies in the growth of self-respect. But this is only to be gained by successful activity inspired by objective interests.
    • Ch. 1: What Makes People Unhappy?
  • When I speak of "the sinner", I do not mean the man who commits sin: sins are committed by everyone or no one, according to our definition of the word. I mean the man who is absorbed in the consciousness of sin. This man is perpetually incurring his own disapproval, which, if he is religious, he interprets as the the disapproval of God. He has an image of himself as he thinks he ought to be, which is in continual conflict with his knowledge of himself as he is.
    • 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?
  • I am persuaded that those who quite sincerely attribute their sorrows to their views about the universe are putting the cart before the horse: the truth is they are unhappy for some reasons of which they are not aware, and this unhappiness leads them to dwell upon the less agreeable characteristics of the world in which they live.
    • Ch. 2: Byronic Unhappiness.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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 certain amount of it [excitement] is wholesome, but, like almost everything else, the matter is quantitative. Too little may produce morbid cravings; too much will produce exhaustion. A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young.
    • Ch. 4: Boredom and Excitement
  • 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, of which Alpine climbing may serve as the best example.
    • Ch. 4: Boredom and Excitement
  • ... consider the difference between love and mere sex attraction. Love is an experience in which our whole being is renewed and refreshed as is that of plants by rain after drought. In sex intercourse without love there is nothing of this. When the momentary pleasure is ended, there is fatigue, disgust, and a sense that life is hollow. Love is part of the life of Earth; sex without love is not.
    • 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
  • It is amazing how much both happiness and efficiency can be increased by the cultivation of an orderly mind, which thinks about a matter adequately at the right time rather than inadequately at all times.
    • Ch. 5: Fatigue
  • Nothing is so exhausting as indecision, and nothing is so futile.
    • Ch. 5: Fatigue
  • A great many worries can be diminished by realizing the unimportance of the matter which is causing the anxiety.
    • Ch. 5: Fatigue
  • Our doings are not so important as we naturally suppose; our successes and failures do not after all matter very much. Even great sorrows can be survived; troubles which seem as if they must put an end to happiness for life, fade with the lapse of time until it becomes almost impossible to remember their poignancy. But over and above these self-centered considerations is the fact that one's ego is no very large part of the world. The man who can center his thoughts and hopes upon something transcending self can find a certain peace in the ordinary troubles of life which is impossible to the pure egoist.
    • Ch. 5: Fatigue
  • 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
  • Merely to realize the causes of one's own envious feelings is to take a long step towards curing them. The habit of thinking in terms of comparison is a fatal one.
    • Ch. 6: Envy
  • Envy is of course closely connected with competition. We do not envy a good fortune which we conceive as quite hopelessly out of our reach. In an age when the social hierarchy is fixed, the lowest classes do not envy the upper classes so long as the division between rich and poor is thought to be ordained by God. Beggars do not envy millionaires though of course they will envy other beggars who are more successful.
    • Ch. 6: Envy
  • While it is true that envy is the chief motive force leading to justice as between different classes, different nations, and different sexes, it is at the same time true that the kind of justice to be expected as a result of envy is likely to be the worst possible kind; namely, that which consists rather in diminishing the pleasures of the fortunate than in increasing those of the unfortunate.
    • 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 civilized 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 realization 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
  • Very few people can resist saying malicious things about their acquaintances, and even on occasion about their friends; yet when people hear that anything against themselves, they are filled with indignant amazement.
    • Ch. 8: Persecution Mania
  • We expect everybody else to feel towards us that tender love and that profound respect which we feel towards ourselves.
    • Ch. 8: Persecution Mania
  • Persecution mania is always rooted in a too exaggerated conception of our own merits.
    • Ch. 8: Persecution Mania
  • Another not uncommon victim of persecution mania is a certain type of philanthropist, who is always doing good people against their will, and is amazed and horrified that they display no gratitude. Our motives in doing good are seldom as pure as we imagine them to be. Love of power is insidious; it has many disguises, and is often the source of the pleasure we derive from doing what we believe to be good to other people.
    • Ch. 8: Persecution Mania
  • These illustrations suggest four general maxims, which will prove an adequate preventive of persecution mania if their truth is sufficiently realized. The first is: remember that your motives are not always as altruistic as they seem to yourself. The second is: Don't overestimate 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 desire to persecute you.
    • Ch. 8: Persecution Mania
  • Conventional morality inculcates a degree of altruism of which human nature is scarcely capable, and those who pride themselves upon their virtue often imagine that they attain this unattainable idea. The immense majority of even the noblest persons' actions have self-regarding motives, nor is this to be regretted, since if it were otherwise, the human race could not survive.
    • 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
  • Young people who find themselves out of harmony with their surroundings should endeavor in the choice of a profession to select some career which will give them a chance of congenial companionship, even if this should entail a considerable loss of income.
    • Ch. 9: Fear of Public Opinion
  • Where the environment is stupid or prejudiced or cruel, it is a sign of merit to be out of harmony with it.
    • Ch. 9: Fear of Public Opinion
  • Young people are ill-advised if they yield to the pressure of the old in any vital matter.
    • Ch. 9: Fear of Public Opinion
  • While it is desirable that the old should treat with respect the wishes of the young, it is not desirable that the young should treat with respect the wishes of the old. The reason is simple, namely that in either case it is the lives of the young that are concerned, not the lives of the old.
    • 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
  • The man who underestimates himself is perpetually being surprised by success, whereas the man who overestimates himself is just as often surprised by failure. The former kind of surprise is pleasant, the latter unpleasant. It is therefore wise to be not unduly conceited, though also not too modest to be enterprising.
    • Ch. 10: Is Happiness Still Possible?
  • All the conditions of happiness are realized in the life of the man of science. He has an activity which utilizes his abilities to the full, and he achieves results which appear important not only to himself but to the general public, even when it cannot in the smallest degree understand them. In this he is more fortunate than the artists. When the public cannot understand a picture or a poem, they conclude that it is a bad picture or a bad poem. When they cannot understand the theory of relativity they conclude (rightly) that their education has been insufficient. Consequently Einstein is honored while the best painters are (or at least were) left to starve in garrets, and Einstein is happy while the painters are unhappy. Very few men can be genuinely happy in a life involving continual self-assertion against the skepticism of the mass of mankind, unless they can shut themselves up in a coterie and forget the cold outer world. The man of science has no need of a coterie, since he is thought well of by everybody except his colleagues. The artist, on the contrary, is in the painful situation of having to choose between being despised and being despicable. If his powers are of the first order, he must incur one or the other of these misfortunes – the former if he uses his powers, the latter if he does not.
    • Ch. 10: Is Happiness Still Possible?
  • 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?
  • Companionship and cooperation are essential elements in the happiness of the average man, and these are to be obtained in industry far more fully than in agriculture.
    • Ch. 10: Is Happiness Still Possible?
  • Belief in a cause is a source of happiness to large numbers of people. I am not thinking only of revolutionaries, socialists, nationalists in oppressed countries, and such; I am thinking also of many humbler kinds of belief.
    • Ch. 10: Is Happiness Still Possible?
  • Any pleasure that does no harm to other people is to be valued.
    • 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. We are all prone to the malady of the introvert, who, with the manifold spectacle of the world spread out before him, turns away gazes only upon the emptiness within.
    • Ch. 11: Zest
  • The mind is a strange machine which can combine the materials offered to it in the most astonishing ways, but without materials from the external world it is powerless.
    • Ch. 11: Zest
  • All our separate tastes and desires have to fit into the general framework of life. If they are to be a source of happiness they must be compatible with health, with the affection of those whom we love, and with the respect of the society in which we live.
    • 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 valor 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
  • Human nature is so constructed that it gives affection most readily to those who seem least to demand it.
    • Ch. 12: Affection
  • 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.
    • 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. To many men home is a refuge from the truth: it is their fears and their timidities that make them enjoy a companionship in which these feelings are put to rest. They seek from their wives what they obtained formerly from an unwise mother, and yet they are surprised if their wives regard them as grown-up children.
    • Ch. 12: Affection
    • [O]n the whole women tend to love men for their character while men tend to love women for their appearance. In this respect, it must be said, men show themselves the inferiors of women, for the qualities that men find pleasing in women are on the whole less desirable than those that women find pleasing in men. I am not at all sure, however, that it is easier to acquire a good character than a good appearance, at any rate the steps necessary for the latter are better understood and more readily pursued by women than are the steps necessary for the former by men.
    • 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
  • Provided work is not excessive in amount, even the dullest work is to most people less painful than idleness.
    • Ch. 14: Work
  • 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
  • Without self-respect genuine happiness is scarcely possible. And the man who is ashamed of his work can hardly achieve self-respect.
    • Ch. 14: Work
  • The habit of viewing life as a whole is an essential part both of wisdom and of true morality, and is one of the things which ought to be encouraged in education. 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.
    • 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. 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.
    • Ch. 15: Impersonal Interests
  • A little work directed to a good end is better than a great deal of work directed to a bad end, though the apostles of the strenuous life seem to think otherwise.
    • Ch. 15: Impersonal Interests
  • It is one of the defects of modern higher education that it has become too much a training in the acquisition of certain kinds of skill, and too little an enlargement of the mind and heart by an impartial survey of the world.
    • 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
  • It is better to do nothing than to do harm. Half the useful work in the world consists of combating the harmful work. A little time spent in learning to appreciate facts is not time wasted, and the work that will be done afterwards is far less likely to be harmful than the work done by those who need a continual inflation of their ego as a stimulant to their energy.
    • Ch. 16: Effort and Resignation
  • 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.
    • Ch. 17: The Happy Man
  • [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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