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Notes from The Conquest of Happiness, 1930

by Bertrand Russell

In adolescence, I hated life and was continually on the verge of suicide, from which, however, I was restrained by the desire to know more mathematics. Now, on the contrary, I enjoy life; I might almost say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more.

The man who is only interested in himself is not admirable, and is not felt to be so.

Usually the megalomaniac, whether insane or nominally sane, is the product of some excessive humiliation.

He [the business man] has probably no men friends who are important to him, although he has a number with whom he affects a geniality that he wishes he felt.

The business man’s religion and glory demand that he should make much money; therefore, like the Hindu widow, he suffers the torment gladly.

Money, up to a certain point, is very capable of increasing happiness; beyond that point, I do not think it does so. What I do maintain is that success can only be one ingredient in happiness, and is too dearly purchased if all the other ingredients have been sacrificed to obtain it.

It is one of the essentials of boredom that one’s faculties must not be fully occupied.

The opposite of boredom is not pleasure, but excitement.

A certain amount of excitement is wholesome, but, like almost everything else, the matter is quantitative. Too little may produce morbid cravings; too much will produce exhaustion. A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young.

No great achievement is possible without persistent work.

The capacity to endure a more or less monotonous life is one which should be acquired in childhood.

Among those who are rich enough to choose their way of life, the particular brand of unendurable boredom from which they suffer is due, paradoxical as this may seem, to their fear of boredom. In flying from the fructifying kind of boredom, they fall a prey to the other far worse kind. A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live.

The kind of fatigue that is most serious in the present day in advanced communities is nervous fatigue.

...which none the less wears him out, all the more owing to the subconscious effort involved in not hearing it [noise].

The wise man thinks about his troubles only when there is some purpose in doing so; at other times he thinks about other things, or, if it is night, about nothing at all.

It is amazing how much both happiness and efficiency can be increased by the cultivation of an orderly mind, which thinks about a matter adequately at the right time rather than inadequately at all times. When a difficult or worrying decision has to be reached, as soon as all the data are available, give the matter your best thought and make your decision; having made the decision, do not revise it unless some new fact comes to your knowledge. Nothing is so exhausting as indecision, and nothing is so futile.

Purely intellectual, like purely muscular fatigue, produces its own remedy in sleep.

A conscious thought can be planted in the unconscious if a sufficient amount of vigour and intensity is put into it. Most of the unconscious consists of what were once highly emotional conscious thoughts, which have now become buried.

Worry is a form of fear, and all forms of fear produce fatigue.

One of the worst features of nervous fatigue is that it acts as a sort of screen between a man and the outside world. Impressions reach him, as it were, muffled and muted; he no longer notices people except to be irritated by small tricks or mannerisms; he derives no pleasure from his meals or from the sunshine, but tends to become tensely concentrated upon a few objects and indifferent to all the rest.

Women regard all other women as their competitors, whereas men as a rule only have this feeling towards other men in the same profession.

Let your conscious beliefs be so vivid and emphatic that they make an impression upon your unconscious strong enough to cope with the impressions made by the formative experiences of your early childhood.

The happiness that is genuinely satisfying is accompanied by the fullest exercise of our faculties, and the fullest appreciation of the world in which we live.

Owing to differences of outlook a person of given tastes and convictions may find himself practically an outcast while he lives in one set, although in another set he would be accepted as an entirely ordinary human being. A very great deal of unhappiness, especially among the young, arises in this way.

To almost everybody sympathetic surroundings are necessary to happiness.

Happiness is of two sorts, though, of course, there are intermediate degrees. The two sorts I mean might be distinguished as plain and fancy, or animal and spiritual, or of the heart and of the head.

Complexity in emotions is like foam in a river. It is produced by obstacles which break the smoothly flowing current. But so long as the vital energies are unimpeded, they produce no ripple on the surface, and their strength is not evident to the unobservant.

Cynicism such as one finds very frequently among the most highly educated young men and women of the West results from the combination of comfort with powerlessness.

Belief in a cause is a source of happiness to large numbers of people.

Fundamental happiness depends more than anything else upon what may be called a friendly interest in persons and things.

A sense of duty is useful in work, but offensive in personal relations. People wish to be liked, not to be endured with patient resignation.

The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.

Zest is the most universal and distinctive mark of happy men.

The more things a person is interested in, the more opportunities of happiness he has and the less he is at the mercy of fate, since if he loses one thing he can fall back upon another.

The habits of mind formed in early years are likely to persist through life.

On the whole women tend to love men for their character while men tend to love women for their appearance.

Very few men or women will have children from a sense of public duty, even if it were far clearer than it is that any such public duty exists.

Continuity of purpose is one of the most essential ingredients of happiness in the long run, and for most men this comes chiefly through their work.

Not a few revolutionaries and militarists and other apostles of violence are actuated, usually without their own knowledge, by hatred: the destruction of what they hate is their real purpose, and they are comparatively indifferent to the question what is to comes after it.

I think that where it is possible to do work that is satisfactory to a man’s constructive impulses without entirely starving, he will be well advised from the point of view of his own happiness if he chooses it in preference to work much more highly paid but not seeming to him worth doing on its own account. Without self-respect genuine happiness is scarcely possible.

Consistent purpose is not enough to make life happy, but it is an almost indispensable condition of a happy life. And consistent purpose embodies itself mainly in work.

As a man gets more tired, his external interests fade, and as they fade he loses the relief which they afford him and becomes still more tired.

Making decisions and exercising volition are very fatiguing, especially if they have to be done hurriedly and without the help of the subconscious.

A little work directed to a good end is better than a great deal of work directed to a bad end, though the apostles of the strenuous life seem to think otherwise.

The happy life is to an extraordinary extent the same as the good life. Professional moralists have made too much of self-denial, and in so doing have put the emphasis in the wrong place. Conscious self-denial leaves a man self-absorbed and vividly aware of what he has sacrificed; in consequence it fails often of its immediate object and almost always of its ultimate purpose.

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