Conquest Of Happiness
I had read a book on happiness called "Conquest Of Happiness" by Bertrand Russell. One of my few forays into philosophy. Russell was truly a polymath (term I got courtesy Word-A-Day list), he possessed such a wide range of knowledge it is unbelievable, also one of the rare literary people who were great in maths and science. Russell wrote a definitive mathematical treatise called Principia Mathematica somewhat inspired from Newton's seminal work Naturalis Principia Mathematica.
In this book on happiness which would be among his lesser known works he first delves into the causes of unhappiness, he calls it Byronic unhappiness after the poet Byron, due to the melancholia of his works and his basic premise that life is not a pleasant experience and is a burden to be endured, essentially the Victorian repression mentality . Some of the causes Russell listed down which lead to unhappiness are competition, alternation of boredom and excitement, fatigue, envy, sense of sin, persecution mania, fear of public opinion.
Then he gives the factors that lead to happiness: Zest, affection, family, work, impersonal interests(hobbies) ,effort and a sense of resignation like a fakir.Though I feel factors like family and work can also be cause of great unhappiness. He also elaborates on both sides of the coin. But he says these factors if worked upon can give satisfaction and happiness.
Some other interesting points he makes with which I agree are that; monotony is good for children, too much change makes one insecure as an adult, Children shouldn't undergo frequent flux,for a child one day exactly like another is quite satisfying, unlike for adults. I am sure most of us can easily relate to this.
As a child I liked doing a fixed set of things, and enjoyed doing them, and looked forward to it. Didn't make a difference if I did it day-in and day-out. Like playing with my Lego set, unassembling a structure I made and remake the same numerous times, play with my tennis racket hitting the wall, going out to the garden with my toy-gun and pretending I was a commando, climb trees. Take out my cycle and race against imaginary opponents, chase butterflies, catch fish from the nearby storm drain. I liked to be alone in my own world. Liked eating the same type of food, didn't like too much variety in my grub, didn't like meeting new people or going off to new places. (Hey, I am beginning to sound like I was a weirdo as a child, or a lot like Jack Nicholson in As Good As it Gets) . But currently I find all the above things so alien with my personality, I have undergone a transformation I guess , but there are circumstantial factors underlying all these. Will try to do some more soul-searching later.
Coming back to Russell, another thing he says is that, too much passive entertainment becomes
addictive like a drug, more and more will be required. How true it is if we see the current generation hooked on television and video-games (though some may call gaming as active, but what I feel is that still it is an artificial stimulation, and obviously addictive).
He gives an example of Sherlock Holmes and talks about how intense his interests and passions were. But I would like to disagree, Holmes had an unique life, he had a zest about his work but he always came across as brooding and contemplative. Joie-de-vivre was lacking in him. Infact Watson seemed to be the more happy chap.
Also Russell says that one should have an interest in people and try to have a variety of experiences in life to find happiness.
Finally he ends with a quote. "Happiness lies in a personality 'neither divided against itself nor pitted against the world' and the ability to swim with the stream of life".