May 13, 2022

The Conquest Of Happiness

I made 92 highlights while reading The Conquest Of Happiness by Bertrand Russell. The book will give you insights into how to live a good life.
  • He thought that education was the key to preventing wars and benefitting the future. Therefore, he decided to open a school.

  • One idea that has proved invaluable to me is the advice to ask oneself, when one is in trouble, whether one can do anything about it at that moment. If yes, then do it. If not, then set the matter aside until you can.

  • Success in work depends on your interest in the material.

  • The man who is interested in only himself is not admirable. The man whose sole concern is that the world shall admire him will not achieve his object.

  • Vanity and love of power are part of human nature. They only become deplorable when they are excessive or associated with an insufficient sense of reality, which makes a man unhappy or foolish, if not both.

  • A megalomaniac is usually the result of some form of humiliation.

  • When channelled properly, power can enhance a person's happiness. But if power becomes the central focus of life, disaster is sure to follow.

  • A mood cannot be changed by argument. It can only be changed by some fortuitous event or a change in our bodily condition.

  • The human-animal, like other animals, is adapted to a certain amount of struggle for survival. When humans can gratify all their whims without effort, the mere absence of effort from their lives removes an essential ingredient of happiness.

  • When people's income declines, pessimism abounds.

  • Many people are confused about what is important in their lives. They've abandoned their old standards but have not yet acquired new ones. That leads to various problems when the unconscious mind still believes in the old standards. When problems arise, people feel despair, remorse, and cynicism.

  • Love enhances many of the best pleasures, such as music, sunrises, and seas under fully lit up moons.

  • For all young men who feel lost, I suggest that they stop trying to be artists and live lives where physical well-being is their primary concern.

  • The struggle for survival is the struggle for success. What we fear when we engage in that struggle is not that we will fail to get our next meal but that we will fail to outshine our neighbours.

  • What I would most like to get from money is leisure with security. But what the typical modern man desires to get with it is more money to show off and outshine his fellow man.

  • Money made is the accepted measure of brains.

  • Success is one of many ingredients necessary to achieve happiness. But it is not worth sacrificing other essential parts of your life to obtain it.

  • In the eighteenth century, it was one of a gentleman's many attributes to be discriminating in his taste for literature, art and music. The rich man of today tends to be quite different. He doesn't read, go to plays, or listen to music. If he does own any art, it's because it has monetary value. The result is that he has no idea what to do with his leisure time.

  • Success without the proper guidance leads to boredom.

  • The Book Clubs have never selected either Hamlet or King Lear, nor have they ever made selections from Dante. Consequently, the reading done by the Book Clubs is of mediocre modern books and never masterpieces.

  • Forty years ago, the general conversation was a living tradition in the salons of France, perfected over generations. This art brought the highest faculties into play for the sake of something completely evanescent.

  • Once widespread among the educated class, the knowledge of good literature is now confined to a few professors.

  • Competition poisons not only work but leisure as well. Quiet and restorative leisure becomes boring in the presence of competition.

  • We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to believe that boredom can be avoided by pursuing excitement.

  • Wars, pogroms, and persecutions have all been part of the flight from boredom.

  • All great books have boring passages, and all great lives are similar.

  • The lives of great men are generally quiet and not exciting to the outward eye.

  • The pleasures of childhood should be acquired through effort and inventiveness.

  • Children are best off when they are allowed to develop in an environment that is unbroken by excessive travel and exposure to a wide variety of experiences. That allows them to become adults who can comfortably handle fruitful boredom. I do not mean that boredom has any merit of its own. I mean only that certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of boredom.

  • Gambling is a good example of a pleasure that does not connect us to life on Earth. When gambling ceases, we feel dissatisfied, as if we are hungry for something more. Gambling brings nothing that can be called joy. By contrast, pleasures that connect us to the Earth bring something of lasting value; when they cease, their happiness remains with us.

  • If it is not excessive, physical fatigue tends to make one feel happy. It leads to a good night's sleep and a hearty appetite.

  • Once you have all the information you need to make a decision, make it. Only revise your decision if new information comes to light.

  • Our successes and failures do not matter very much.

  • One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is important. If I were a doctor, I would prescribe a vacation for any patient who considered his work important. A nervous breakdown that appears to be produced by work is actually produced by some emotional trouble from which the patient attempts to escape through his work.

  • When you face misfortune, think about the worst thing that could happen. Then give yourself a reason to believe that it would not be so terrible.

  • The most easily obtained pleasures in life usually wear you out.

  • Envy is the most unfortunate of all human characteristics. The envious person wishes to inflict misfortune on others and does so whenever possible. He is also himself rendered unhappy by envy. Instead of deriving pleasure from what he has, he derives pain from others. If this is allowed to run riot, it becomes fatal to all excellence and even to the most useful exercise of skill.

  • To increase human happiness, we should increase admiration and diminish envy.

  • When something pleasant happens, enjoy it to the fullest. Don't stop to think that something else might be happening somewhere else, which is better.

  • Working hard and earning a salary sufficient for one's needs is a blessing. However, it can be frustrating to learn that someone else whom one believes to be in no way one's superior is earning a salary twice as great. The proper cure for this frustration is mental discipline, the habit of not dwelling on comparisons.

  • If you desire glory, you may envy Napoleon. But Napoleon envied Caesar, Caesar envied Alexander, and Alexander envied Hercules. You cannot escape envy by becoming successful as there will always be someone more successful than you.

  • Modesty is considered a virtue, but I am doubtful. Modest people need a great deal of reassurance and often don't attempt tasks they can perform. Modest people believe themselves to be outshone by those with whom they associate. They are therefore prone to envy. For my part, I think there is much to be said for bringing up a boy to consider himself a fine fellow.

  • Envy is a chief motive force for justice between classes, nations, and sexes. But the kind of justice that results from envy is likely to be bad. Rather than increasing the pleasures of the unfortunate, it diminishes those of the fortunate.

  • Propaganda is more successful when stirring up hatred than when trying to stir up friendly feelings. The reason is that the human heart, made by civilisation, is more prone to hatred than friendship. It is prone to hatred as it feels dissatisfied. It feels that others have secured the good things in life that nature offers.

  • Don't just alternate between rational and irrational behaviour. Examine your irrationality closely and eliminate it.

  • People who have a generous attitude towards others make others happy and are also the source of their own happiness.

  • I do not think that a man should set aside an hour a day for self-examination. It is not the best method because it increases self-absorption. I suggest that you make up your mind with emphasis on what you rationally believe and should never allow irrational beliefs to pass unchallenged or obtain a hold over you.

  • Some people have an uncanny ability to spin convincing tales of being mistreated. They often elicit warm sympathy from those who have not known them long.

  • According to the principle of probability, people living in a given society are likely to meet with about the same amount of bad treatment. If one person claims that everyone is unkind to him, the cause may be his own behaviour. He may imagine injuries that have not been inflicted or unconsciously stirred up anger.

  • Our desire for power often motivates our behaviour, even when doing good.

  • Most people act with self-regard, and this is not a bad thing. If people did not look out for themselves, they would not be able to survive.

  • If you find that others do not rate your abilities as highly as you do yourself, do not be too sure they are mistaken.

  • Few people can be happy unless they have the approval of those around them.

  • People are more likely to be bitten by a dog when they act afraid of him than when they treat him with contempt. The human herd is similar.

  • Conventional people are infuriated by changes in conventional thinking because they see such changes as criticisms of themselves.

  • Young people are as wrong to object to the remarriage of a widowed parent as are older people when they attempt to regulate the lives of those who have reached an age of discretion. Both young and old have the right to their own choices and, if necessary, their own mistakes.

  • A society where people don't conform to convention is more interesting.

  • Fear of public opinion is oppressive and limits growth.

  • Those who underestimate themselves are often pleasantly surprised by success, whereas those who overestimate themselves are often disappointed.

  • Cynicism among highly educated Westerners results from being comfortable with feeling powerless. Such people feel that nothing is worth doing, and comfort makes the painfulness of this feeling just endurable.

  • Enjoying work involves finding a way to derive satisfaction from exercising your skills without demanding universal applause.

  • The ultimate goal of machine production is to have machines do menial tasks and allow humans to focus on creative ones.

  • Any pleasure that does not harm other people is to be valued.

  • One should use a sense of duty in work, not in personal relations. People want to be liked, not endured with patient resignation. It is perhaps the greatest pleasure to like many people spontaneously and without effort.

  • Happiness comes from cultivating a wide range of interests and being open to new ideas and people.

  • If you’re interested in many things, you'll have more chances for happiness and be less at the mercy of fate. Though life is too short to be interested in everything, it’s good to be interested in as many things as necessary to fill our days.

  • The good life requires a balance among different activities. But neither activity should be carried so far as to make the others impossible.

  • Spontaneous impulses will only produce simple forms of social cooperation, not complex forms that modern economic organisations demand.

  • Health has improved in all civilised countries during the last hundred years. But it is difficult to measure energy, and I doubt that physical vigour is as great today.

  • Few institutions are as disorganised and derailed as the family.

  • If you consider human nature, apart from the circumstances of the present day, it is clear that parenthood provides the greatest happiness life has to offer.

  • Our parents love us because we are their children, and this fact cannot be altered. This security gives us a place to fall back on when life is difficult.

  • The primitive root of the pleasure of parenthood is twofold. There is the feeling of part of one's own body externalised, prolonging its life beyond the death of the rest of one's body. And there is also an intimate blend of power and tenderness.

  • Parents who desire their child's welfare more than power over the child need not consult textbooks to know how to raise their children. These parents will be guided right by their impulses, which will lead to a harmonious relationship. But this demands on the part of the parent a respect for the child's personality.

  • Most mothers who are self-sacrificing are actually selfish toward their children. An unsatisfied mother is likely to be emotionally draining. It is important for both child and mother that the mother not be cut off from other pursuits.

  • Few people can fill their leisure time with activities that enrich their lives.

  • People want to work because it keeps them from being bored. The boredom of a person with nothing to do is worse than a person doing uninteresting work.

  • The desire to earn more money is driven by a need for success as much as it is by the desire for additional comforts.

  • Skilled work can be pleasurable when it is either variable or capable of indefinite improvement. If these conditions are absent, skilled work will cease to be interesting once a man has acquired his maximum skill.

  • Those who are not proud of their work will never earn self-respect.

  • A man who can put aside his work when it is done and not think about it until the next day will do his job better than a man who constantly worries about it. Having many interests outside of work makes it easier to let go of your job.

  • Life is full of surprising things. Those who fail to be interested in the spectacle it offers are missing out on one of life's privileges.

  • A small amount of work directed toward a worthy goal is often more effective than a large amount of work aimed at an unworthy goal.

  • Grief is unavoidable and must be expected, but much can be done to avoid it. It is sentimentality to aim to extract the maximum drop of misery from misfortune.

  • It is wise to cultivate a certain width of interests in happier times so that when misfortune comes, the mind may find an undisturbed place suggesting other associations and other emotions.

  • The truth is not always interesting, but many things are believed because they are interesting. People find them appealing and convincing, even though there is little other evidence in their favour.

  • The attitude required is that of doing one's best while leaving the issue to fate.

  • Worry, fret, and irritation are emotions which serve no purpose.

  • Half the useful work in the world consists of combating the harmful work.

  • Remind yourself every day of the truths you know about yourself. It will be as useful to your life as performing an act of kindness for someone else. Teach yourself to feel that life would still be worth living even if you were not superior to all your friends in virtue and intelligence. Prolonging this process over several years will free you from the empire of fear over a very large field.

  • You will emerge with your morality intact if you save a drowning child without thinking about it. However, if you decide to save the child as an act of virtue, you will probably be worse off than before.

  • Desire the happiness of those you love, but not as an alternative to your own.