Mystery called Happiness; a book review
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Pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human right. We seem to be only pursuing it and don’t get it. We thought pursuit of wealth; fame and pleasures are equivalent to happiness. But that’s wrong, because we are not happy even after having all of it. Why? The answer is not so easy. It may be evolutionary or philosophical. Russell organized his view on happiness in his book “Conquest of happiness”.
Russell reasons out in most logical and simple ways about happiness. Although it was written in the 1930’s, it is still relevant to the conditions of modern life. Happiness is the ultimate quest of mankind and it will remain as relevant as ever, may be even hundreds of years later.
People from all the walks of life need to read it, since humanity is actually plagued with the disease of unhappiness. Although Mr. Russell declares that it is not for the learned.
He made this idea of happiness appear so simple that people can actually develop a taste for it having read it. He uses day to day examples and explains in a lucid language.
The structure of the book is so logical, starting with causes of unhappiness, proceeding with causes of happiness and ending with “the happy man”. The book is divided into two thematic parts viz. causes of unhappiness and causes of happiness. The causes of unhappiness are said to be competition, boredom and excitement, fatigue, envy, the sense of sin, persecution mania, and fear of public opinion. The causes of happiness are said to be zest, affection, the family, work, impersonal interests, effort, and resignation.
The author says that he was not born happy and in adolescence hated life until he was on the verge of suicide from which he was held back by the desire to know more mathematics. But at the time of writing this book he says he enjoys life mainly because he found his area of interest and less pre-occupation with himself.
In most of the cases Russell presented his reasons and arguments in such a way that, it is hard to doubt or dispute him. But in some cases I tend to disagree with what he has to say.
I think Russell should have dealt about humour in his book, since sense of humour is an important element of happiness. He talks about sense of sin in a whole chapter being the cause of unhappiness. Sense of sin can be interpreted differently by different individuals. For some people derive satisfaction from knowing it and avoiding sin. One fear that haunts me is the fear of death and sometimes it leaves me distressed. The author should have discussed at length about fear of death and how to come to terms with it.
Russell says that, we can cultivate impersonal interests, and a sense of the littleness of man, and of his fortunes or misfortunes. He says in the universe man is so little that there is less reason to be absorbed in the state of self-obsession.
Amongst all other sections I have found the frequent autobiographical passages the most interesting in the book. They reveal that Author has in him the makings of a really great autobiographer, though if his theory is right that avoidance of introspection is one of the safest roads to happiness, it could be written only at the cost of some unhappiness to himself. The author says like animals most of the men live without the consciousness of death. Men even if he knows he chooses not to think about it. So this attitude towards life does not seem to guarantee happiness; it is obviously partial, superficial, insecure and insincere. Had men been more accommodating about the reality called death he could have less fear. Still it is an attitude men have tried to maintain over and over again. Regarding death, Buddhists practitioners are well acquainted and more stabilized, since they learn, debate and meditate on death.
The Author asserts that the happiest men of the present day are men of science. They are happy in their work because science is progressive and powerful, and its importance is not doubted either by themselves or by laymen. He further says that if laymen can’t understand a piece of art they consider it bad art but if he can’t understand a scientific theory he believes that their intelligence level must be higher. This for me doesn’t seem reasonable, for instance Picasso’s art consist of uninteresting sketches but it is widely admired for its significance. Moreover happiness cannot be a one-fits-all kind of an idea. Happiness cannot be taken in absolution, it can be so relative. Therefore, I reject authors claim that men of science are happy men.
On the whole Russell simply advises the unhappy what to do to stop being unhappy and how to do it. After proving that happiness is not impossible, he instructs and provides the elements of happiness as the means to the end.
He dissects each one and makes recommendations. His instructions are simple and direct like; “When a difficult or worrying decision is to be reached….give the matter your best thought…do not revise unless some new fact comes to your knowledge”. The point he wants to make here is once decided there is no reason to worry.
In the conclusion Russell recommends avoiding self-centered passions and acquiring those affections and interests which will prevent the thoughts from perpetually dwelling upon ourselves. His overall view is consistent with this catch phrase, “love people and use things”. Basically Russell wanted us to make money and spend it on others. I tend to agree with him on this, because we have craved everything for ourselves and yet here we are, unhappy! with everything we have wished for.