“As long as one keeps searching, the answers come.” —Joan Baez
~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #131
Life in many ways feels as though it is a treasure hunt. However, I have good news. If my experience is any evidence, Joan Baez’s quote above certainly rings true. Case in point, stumbling across British philosopher Bertrand Russell’s book The Conquest of Happiness.
I happened to have been perusing in my local bookstore, stopping in to pick up another book that I had ordered when I came across the simple bright yellow cover of The Conquest of Happiness. Mind you, the copyright is 1930 and as the new introduction, written in 2012, by philosophy professor at Tufts University Daniel C. Dennett reminds, Russell’s views while quite progress at the time clearly leave laid bare his ignorance about women and minorities. However, these should be set aside as we look through the lens as though he is speaking about all people, because what he reveals gave me reason to take a deep breath of appreciation.
As Russell reminds straight-away with his title, happiness is something we must cultivate. It is not something that we are born with. Now, this is not to say that we are born unhappy, no, absolutely not. However, we are born, each of us, into a culture and world we did not choose. We must come to understand our place in it, understand the capabilities that are innately ours and how to offer them to the world all the while protecting ourselves and vulnerable heart.
Russell offers wise words about what we can and cannot do. What is true and what we should let go of as once assumed as true along the path to attaining happiness and identifying what we think is causing our unhappiness.
I have gone through and found 38 points he shares that through welcoming as either habits, practices, approaches or shifts in our thoughts and beliefs, can usher in a true happiness we may have never thought attainable.
First: Determine what you most desire
Then . . .
1. Diminish your preoccupation with yourself (stop meditating on your perceived sins and shortcomings)
2. Focus primarily on external objects: the state of the world, attainment of knowledge in a variety of avenues, and individuals for whom you feel affection.
3. Practice moderation
4. Aspire to be interested in a variety of things; the more opportunities for happiness you have, the less you are at the mercy of fate since if you lose one thing you can fall back on another.
5. Even when an unexpected negative event takes place, understand that it too can give pleasure. How? Appreciate the knowledge you have gained to better understand the world and reduce unnecessary fear.
6. Bolster your energy so when you have free time you can pursue what interests you without restraint.
7. Vow to have a zest for life, an incessant curiosity.
8. Understand this truth, affection is given to those who least demand it.
9. Those who face life with a feeling of security are much happier than the contrary.
10. You are more likely to realize what you fear by believing it.
11. Self-confidence comes from being accustomed to receiving as much of the right sort of affection as one has the need for (healthy, non-dependent, etc.)
12. A person who is hardy and adventurous can endure a great deal without damage.
13. The best type of affection is reciprocally life-giving: each receives affection with joy and gives it without effort, and each finds the whole world more interesting in consequence of the existence of this reciprocal happiness.
14. Affection, in the sense of a genuine reciprocal interest of two persons in each other, not solely as means to each other’s good but rather as a combination having a common goal, is one of the most important elements of real happiness.
15. A capacity for genuine affection is one of the marks of someone who has escaped from the prison of one’s self-absorption.
16. Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.
17. One must cultivate external interests that bring rest and do not call for any action, rather allow you to simply enjoy.
18. Never ignore opportunities to gain knowledge.
19. Contemplate what makes greatness of one’s soul. When one is capable of greatness of soul, it will open wide the windows of the mind, letting the winds blow freely upon it from every operation of the universe.
20. During times of grief, loss or pain, turn towards something that is not the source of anxiety. (This is where having many, varied interests comes in quite handy).
21. One cultivates happiness and therefore must find ways of coping with the multitudinous cause of unhappiness. By choosing to unearth the answers, happiness expands.
22. Happiness is an achievement, not a gift.
23. Do your best (effort) and then leave it up to fate (resign).
24. Having an unconquerable hope means it must be large and impersonal (hopes for humanity and being okay with the progress made, no matter how small even if the goal wasn’t reached yet).
25. Let go of worry, fret and irritation as they serve no purpose.
26. In times of quandary, it is better to do nothing than to do harm.
27. A certain kind of resignation is involved in the willingness to face the truth about ourselves.
28. Nothing is more fatiguing than to believe things that are only a myth or false.
29. Happiness requires food, shelter, health, love, successful work, and the respect of one’s own herd.
30. Fear is the principal reason why humans are so unwilling to admit facts and so anxious to wrap themselves round in a warm garment of myth.
31. Accepting facts and truth is a way to tackle fear and reach true happiness.
32. The happy person is who lives objectively, who has free affections and wide interests, who secures her happiness through these interests and affections and through the fact that they in turn make the person an object of interest and affection to many others.
33. The person who demands affection is not the person upon whom it is bestowed.
34. Don’t think about the causes of unhappiness; get outside of it, it must be by genuine interests, not by simulated interests.
35. Once you let go of self-absorption, let the spontaneous working of your nature and of external circumstances lead you.
36. Only what genuinely interests you can be of any use to you.
37. Undoubtedly, we should desire the happiness of those whom we love, but not as an alternative to our own.
38. A happy person feels a citizen of the universe, enjoying freely the spectacle it offers and the joys it affords, untroubled by the thought of death because they feel themselves not really separate from those who will come after them. It is in such profound instinctive union with the stream of life that the greatest joy is to be found.
While there is much to digest and contemplate, what left me with hope was the reality that so much of what causes us pain is self-inflicted. While yes, there are many things that are out of our control, understanding the difference is key, but so too is recognizing when we have played a role that has adversely obstructed us from potential happiness. Simply put, we need to get out of our own way, and this list will help us all to do just that.
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~starring Alice Taglioni and Patrick Bruel (English subtitles)