Chapter 14: Work

Russell counts work as a cause of happiness, though it is often regarded as a source of unhappiness. There are many occupations that are "exceedingly irksome" and it is difficult to imagine anyone would find pleasure in them. And even work that is interesting can become tedious or onerous done to excess.

However, provided that the amount of work is not excessive, even the dullest work is preferable to idleness. While most of the work that must be done to accomplish some goal is not inherently interesting, but it does fill the time and give a person a sense of productiveness.

Idle time, which coveted by those with too much to do, can be unpleasant. Most people struggle to find ways to fill their own time, and if they think of something pleasant to do they are troubled by the feeling there might be something more pleasant. Most people would gladly go along with whatever someone else suggests than think of something to do, provided he suggestion is not too unpleasant. The wealthy, freed from the drudgery of work, are subjected to an excruciating level of boredom and fill their time with "innumerable trifles."

And therefore, work is desirable as a preventative for boredom, as even an uninteresting activity is more satisfactory than having nothing at all to do. Our free time is all the more enjoyable for its scarcity: a working man enjoys his evening more than a man who has been idle all day.

(EN: BR mentions that people can't think of something to do every hour of every day, and my sense is that the "free" time outside of work represents the amount of time, perhaps four to six hours, for which people can think of something to do. However, given the amount of time spent in passive and mindless activities, such as television watching, perhaps the amount of time an average person has the ability to fill for himself is less?)

Another advantage of work is that it leads to a continuity of purpose. Russell's perspective is that success at work is measured by income, such that man works to achieve the necessities of life and then to become better at his work as a means to greater income to afford the extra comforts that a higher income can procure.

(EN: He fails, as do many, to make the connection that income is a reward for production - whether an employee or an independent craftsman, an individual becomes over time capable of producing in greater quantity or quality, which better serves the customers in his market, which returns him a greater income.)

He pauses to remark on the unfortunate fate of the housewife, who does not receive wages for her work and hasn't the intelligence to recognize that the increased efficiency and quality of her contribution to her family - to have a more comfortable home and a more beautiful garden is difficult for her to appreciate.

Some enjoyment of work comes from exercising skills and seeing their improvement - which can be seen in the unpaid hobbies and even leisure pursuits such as games of skill. A man who can do something well takes pleasure in doing it, which is as true of a custodian who sees a floor well-swept as a result of his labor as it is of a doctor who sees a patient recover as a result of his.

Another form of enjoyment from work is the sense of constructiveness, which is most visible in the kind of work that produces tangible objects: a bricklayer or an architect takes pride in the building he has produced, as does a tailor from the clothing he has produced. There is the reality that any building raised today will be razed the next to clear the lot for the one that will replace it, but this does little to dampen the spirits of the construction crew, who have a certain sense of permanence and immortality by virtue of their work, much as a parent gains by raising a child.

There's some consideration of "destructive" works, but destruction is merely a prelude to something else. Consider warfare, the most destructive of all vocations - while the work at hand may be killing one's enemy and destroying entire cities, it is a means to gain the peace that comes after and to make one's mark upon history.

At the same time, one of the causes of unhappiness is that so many men find no opportunity to put their talents to use, and must make their bread by work that they find humdrum and unrewarding. And further, some such men find themselves laboring toward a cause in which they have little belief, and may indeed be contrary to their ideals - and in such a situation genuine happiness is scarcely possible.

Whether a man may find occupation in work that gives him happiness is a matter of chance, and those who cannot must make due to find what happiness they can in the work they are able to get.

Another bit of advice is to consider life as a whole, rather than the piecemeal assemblages of hours and days, and in so doing to recognize that if what you are doing at the moment is unrewarding, then that moment shall pass and in time you will find opportunity to do something more to your liking.