Chapter 10: Is Happiness Possible?

Thus far, the author concedes he has been investigating the quality of unhappiness, and is not alone in this: the causes of unhappiness are readily identifiable as they plague us daily, and there is in his age the notion that happiness is impossible. But observe the world, particularly in a foreign environment, and spend some time in meditation, and this notion can be dispelled. There are happy people, and moments of happiness in the most miserable lives.

There are two sorts of happiness, that of the heart and that of the mind. The first is available to anyone who can feel, the second reserved only to those who can think. The first is inflicted upon us and the second germinates within us.

That is not to say that a man of intellect cannot experience corporeal pleasures, though he may delude himself into masking his delight because he thinks himself above it. But it is likely true that a man of little intellect, uneducated and crude, hasn't the capacity to experience intellectual pleasures.

Thus considered, happiness is often erroneously maligned to be the province of children and idiots - those who fail to recognize what cause they have to be unhappy - but in truth, happiness is available to anyone, and the inability to experience it is not the mark of a sophisticated man, but one who is unable or unwilling to recognize what causes they have to be happy.

He is quick to assert that it is not his intention to debase simple corporeal pleasures by praising the virtues of obtuse intellectual pleasures. But the simple pleasures are fairly easy to grasp and observe and merit little attention, except to insist that they should not be denied or ignored - but it does take some explaining to consider the intellectual variety.

It can be observed that happiness is quite common among "the more highly educated sections of the community." The artist and the scientist alike are so profoundly satisfied by their work that they become consumed by it, and find in their pursuits an intellectual pleasure than surpasses corporeal. The hours spent in a studio or workshop pass quickly, and such men neglect the simpler pleasures of life: a good meal, good company, and domestic bliss. Some may balance their work and their life, but many seem to withdraw from society completely.

The unthinking men can scarce understand this, and think that those of intellect are quite lonely and miserable in the hermitage of their workshops, when in truth the intellectuals have found a source of greater bliss. (EN: This reflects on his earlier remarks about public opinion and the way in which some cannot conceive that others can be happy doing anything in which they do not themselves take pleasure.)

One need not be a "great" scientist or artist to take pleasure in work. A man may take pleasure in studying more trivial matters - such as gardening or carpentry. There is a great thrill at discovery and achievement even if the outcome seems trivial to others.

However, it is likely that in our age of mechanized production there is less room for "craftsman's joy" in he performance of skilled work. There is less sense of personal accomplishment in monitoring the bobbins in a cotton mill than in producing cloth by hand. But at the same time, industrialization has largely mechanized the forms of work that were not very engaging to begin with - a machine is good at automating tedious and repetitive tasks, in which speed and consistency are the only criteria for good work.

With that in mind, the ultimate end of industrialization will be a world in which "everything uninteresting is done by machines and human beings are reserved for the work involving variety and initiative." In such a world, the boring and depressing parts of work will be automated and men will be put to good use for their intellect and creativity.

(EN: What he doesn't mention is the time it will take to get there. The problem of mechanization, as the Luddites were quick to recognize, is that there isn't much intellectual work to be had, and some men are incapable of doing it. When their jobs are automated, what are they to do? This is a question we still struggle to solve in the present age.)

Russell asserts "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."

This occurs in the more settled countries of the world, where life has fallen into a familiar pattern and there is little opportunity that falls beyond the bounds of culture. Look to any nation in which there has been a revolution - such as Russia of the author's time and America for the preceding century. When a culture is razed and a new culture must be built, there are many opportunities to apply oneself, to craft a new world to one's own liking, and few constraints to bind a man to the humdrum traditional roles.

(EN: I am caused to reflect, in the present age, of the sharp difference between being an employee of a small start-up firm versus working in a large corporation in an established line of business. There is greater power to achieve and greater exhilaration in achievement in the small firm than the large, unencumbered by decades of tradition and convention, though the reward is less and the risk much greater. I do not subscribe to the view that larger organizations are incapable of innovation, but it occurs at a much slower pace and with much greater resistance.)

Consider the manner in which men can be absorbed in their hobbies. Also consider how closely some hobbies resemble work: gardening is no so different from farming in essence - though a farm hand must work long hours daily and obey his masters bidding where a gardener chooses the time he devotes and has power to choose what he plants. In a similar manner, a collector of coins or stamps does the work of a museum clerk. And whereas many clerks find their work to be tedious, most collectors find their hobby to be fascinating.

There are also hobbies that do not produce anything useful, but nonetheless absorb the hobbyist in an activity that seems tedious and loathsome to others. Specifically, Russell considers meeting in American intellectual who was a baseball fan - which seems an implausible combination - and while Russell himself found sports to be tedious and uninteresting, he recognized his colleague's ability to become engaged and captivated in it.

But he also concedes that hobbies are in all cases a source of happiness, but are often a method of escaping unhappiness and occupying the mind as a distraction from reality. This is not harmful, and can be quite productive to escape momentarily and return with renewed energy to solving life's problems - so long as one does eventually return to reality and does not seek to remain in perpetual escape.

But to this end we must be cautious of overstepping the bounds of friendship, to the point where we are intruding on other people's happiness for the sake of our own perception of what ought to make them more happy. And we must also understand that, as much as we wish to share our pleasure with friends, that they may not be pleased by that which pleases us. Much unhappiness arises from such a lack of respect for oneself and others when the liberty of any individual to pursue what he pleases - rather than that which others wish him to pursue - is violated. It is necessary to take "a friendly interest" in people, but to go no further.

Thus considered, "the secret of happiness" lies in letting your interests range as wide as possible, and to let your reaction to those things and persons that interest you take the form of curiosity rather than control.