Jesse's Reviews > The Conquest of Happiness

The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell
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Jan 09, 14


Russell was very right to title this quintessential self-help book with the word "conquest", since happiness is hardly a thing that emanates from the heavens down to your precious soul - unfortunately, the opposite view has held sway for a couple thousand years. Consequently, many average people do as they're told, expecting happiness to come to them if they are obedient, i.e., enjoy mainstream media, conform one's behavior to outside groups, etc. Yet, everything of human worth is precisely outside of mainstream media and conventional behavior; hence, there must be some conquest (certainly Russell and Nietzsche's views on power coincide somewhere in the noumenal realm). One must struggle for culture in a society infected with Christian values; this was exactly the predicament of Europe coming out of the Middle Ages - people struggled to acquire culture (Greek, Golden Age Latin) and this was what lifted humanity out of medieval depression. In the same way, modernity must struggle again, out of pop (ideological-hegemonic) culture, out of industrial malaise. Partly, this is a political, but also a psychological struggle. The Buddha once noted that the thoughts of today are the seedbed for the thoughts of tomorrow; similarly, Russell notes the importance of training one's unconscious thoughts, to carefully reason out one's worries, and not to suppress them. Suppressing them is bound to give one a sense of unease, an unease that quickly leads to boredom, and boredom is, Russell says, easily responsible for most of the atrocities in history (as Dostoyevsky's Underground Man notes, Cleopatra pierced her slave with her brooch simply for the fun of it). While the political and psychological struggles are perhaps one and the same, and while the boredom that produces unhappiness will persist as long as there is meaningless economic activity (service-industries), Russell gives the reader an important sense of responsibility for one's own degree of happiness in a world that provides, if one is truthful, no end for interest in it.
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