This is my first read of famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell. I was relieved to read the preface , wherein the author says that the book is not addressed to the learned, nor any deep philosophy is to be found in the book, and the observation of the author inspired by common sense. However, as I read the book I found that the common sense of Russell is uncommon.
The book is divided in two parts, part 1 “Causes of Unhappiness” and part 2 is “Causes of Happiness”. I hope to write on both the parts at length in different posts, with necessary excerpts from the book.
PART 1 : CAUSES OF UNHAPPINESS
Chapter 1 : What makes people unhappy?
In this chapter the author states the topic and area covered by the book. The author do not make tall claims to define all kinds of unhappiness nor raise high hopes for the remedies.
I shall confine my attention to those who are not subject to any extreme cause of outward misery. I shall assume a sufficient income to secure food and shelter, sufficient health to make ordinary bodily activities possible….. My purpose is to suggest a cure for the ordinary day-to-day unhappiness from which most people in civilised countries suffer..
Russell wrote the book in 1930 keeping the people of the then modern America and Europe in view, and I believe his observations can be safely applied to present days developing countries like India who is undergoing changes in social and economic structures much like America and Europe in 1930.
The author talks about different characteristics of human nature and explains about common type of self-absorption.
The sinner… is perpetually incurring his own disapproval, which, if he is religious, he interprets as the disapproval of god. …At bottom he still accepts all the prohibitions he was taught in infancy. Swearing ins wicked; drinking is wicked;ordinary shrewdness is wicked; above all sex is wicked. He does not, of course, abstain from any of these pleasures, but they are all poisoned for him by the feeling that they degrade him.
Narcissism is, in a sense, the converse of an habitual sense of sin; it consists in the habit of admiring oneself and wishing to be admired. Up to a point it is, of course, normal , and not to be deplored; it is only it its excess that it becomes a grave evil.
The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men in history.
In the end of the chapter the author says that the readers would rather be happy than unhappy, he doesn’t know whether he can help them to realise this wish, but there is no harm in making the attempt.