the conquest of happiness

“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.”

– Bertrand Russell (1930)

Some of the wisdom in this book is really dated, but much of it is really true, nearly 100 years later. Does human nature really evolve? Or are we reacting to so-called ‘disruptive technology’ in similar patterns to how our ancestors responded to basic stimuli related to success and internal drive? I think we can all relate to achieving benchmarks we thought would make us happy only to find further restlessness. One thing I think Russell got wrong though, is that you can be of a philosophic disposition and still conclude that the attainment of happiness is a continuous practice that has no end point. Contentedness and growth are not mutually exclusive, indeed both require daily practice.


“A man who has once perceived, however temporarily and however briefly, what makes greatness of soul, can no longer by happy if he allows himself to be petty, self-seeking, troubled by trivial misfortunes, dreading what fate may have in store for him. The man capable of greatness of soul will open wide the windows of his mind, letting the winds blow freely upon it from the world as truly as our human limitation will permit; realizing the brevity and minuteness of human life, he will realize also that in individual minds is concentrated whatever of value the known universe contains. And he will see that the man whose mind mirrors the world becomes in a sense as great as the world.”

xo your friend alice

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