Snehal Bhagat's Reviews > The Conquest of Happiness

The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell
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Jan 21, 2012

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A mathematician-turned-philosopher reflects on what constitutes true happiness, and how to attain it.

Russell is highly regarded in mathematical circles, but I have little idea of what his contribution to philosophy is, or in what light modern psychology views his recipes for achieving a happy life. And recipes they are, arising out of his personal observations. Which probably explains the unappetizing elements of the book- a friend of mine says that if you only ever get to see circles when you are growing up, when you first see a square, you comprehend it as an imperfect circle. Russell had it kind of rough, growing up.

Depending on your stage of life and state of mind, this can be an extremely persuasive book, or a rather trite one. I found it to be a bit of both, but then I don't read a lot of philosophy. Modulo the elements that haven't dated well however, there was sufficient that has resonance for our times.

Thus, for Russell, the conquest of happiness is impaired by the "disease of self-absorption.” Indolence won’t bring true happiness, because a certain amount of struggle is essential in life. And just as the Buddha did, he urges us to never be envious of the gifts that others receive, for then one would never have a moment of peace.

Conformity sucks, says Russell, and is also an impediment to happiness. And he’d know something about non-conformity, having discovered that his parents lived in a ménage-a-trois when he was very young.
A society composed of men and women who do not bow too much to the conventions is a far more interesting society than one in which all behave alike.
Take some risks, advises the wise old man, for of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness. Touché.  
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