Chapter 17: The Happy Man
Happiness depends partly on external circumstances and partly upon oneself - and this book has focused on the latter. Insofar as that is concerned, it would seem that "the recipe for happiness is a very simple one."
Certain things are indispensible to the survival of men, such as food and shelter and the other conditions requisite to good health. But merely to survive is not to be contented with the conditions of one's survival. May require a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, and the love and respect of others in society. To some, parenthood is also essential.
"It is not the nature of most men to be happy in a prison," an environment in which all the basic needs of survival are fulfilled, but every other desire is neglected.
By well-directed effort, man can fairly easily achieve happiness, whether his work is directed outward on changing his environment or inward on changing his perspective. And a great deal of the misery of modern life comes not from external tormentors, but from the manner in which man torments himself.
There are self-destructive passions such as fear, envy, and guilt. Of all, fear is the principal reason that men are unwilling to accept facts and reluctant to take action.
Holding oneself in too high esteem is also the cause of great misery. The man who loves himself too much overestimates his abilities and is forever frustrated with the results of his actions; and he also loves others too little and receives little love in return for the constant disdain he shows to others.
The happy man must live objectively, to have free affections and wide interests, secures for himself what happiness he may and accepts with serenity those instances in which he cannot achieve his desires, and thereby learns to keep his desires in check with reality. He is affectionate to his fellow men and receives their affection in return - though if he calculates affections in the way that one calculates the interest owed on money let, his affection is disingenuous and he will seldom find himself content with the balance of accounts.
A man who is unhappy can be counseled, but there is little one can do if counsel does not take root. If he is to escape the vicious and self-perpetuating cycle of misery, he must heal himself. He must apply his rational mind to the cause of his unhappiness, and subject it to a thorough analysis. If in so doing he finds that there is an outcome that can be produced by his own effort, he must apply himself to action; and if there is not, he must find a way to be resigned to the inevitable.
Russell's council is to "admit to yourself every day at least one painful truth" and come to accept yourself as you are - neither pathetic nor omnipotent. A constant and prolonged effort of self-awareness will free a man from a great deal of fear, arrogance, and the delusion that gives rise to both.
It is also worth considering that happiness can be unpredictable. Do not say to yourself "I should be happy if ..." and thereupon set to work, as you may find that you altogether fail to find happiness in that activity or accomplishment and feel all the more defeated. Instead be curious and open to finding what might be pleasant, take chances and experiment, and seek to discover rather than prove.
Insofar as morality is concerned, it often turns out that "the happy life is to an extraordinary extent the same as the good life." Religious leaders and professional moralists have made too much of self-denial and in so doing have put the emphasis in the wrong place. Conscious self-denial often leads a man to avoid the very thing that will cause him the greatest happiness, and the pleasure of conforming to predefined virtues is pale.
Russell admits that his view is hedonistic, but hedonism itself is a moral imperative that can be taken to extremes. Immediate gratification may cause grief in time, so it is important to apply reason and take a long-term perspective to weigh one against the other.
The traditional moralist may insist that happiness must be unselfish, but this is only partially correct: it should not be selfish beyond a certain point, lest it become harmful - but if it is not selfish up to that point, it cannot be successful in producing happiness. Were we able to share in the collective happiness of all mankind, perhaps the traditional view would be so - but each person experiences his own happiness, and to suggest this is not at all so is false and deceptive.
The struggle between self and the rest of the world is an illusion, as there are many things which a man may do to please himself that also please others, or at least do them no harm. To be concerned with the affairs of others, beyond a reasonable degree, is to accept responsibility for all human misery - which is neither a just nor reasonable expectation.
Between a man and society there cannot be complete separation nor complete integration, but to achieve a healthy balance. There are instances in which a man's happiness is linked to those of others in society, and instances in which the two are indifferent or even hostile to one another.
We are citizens of the universe, yet have integrity, and a man who sees himself in the proper context can better recognize the degree to which he exists within the "stream of life."