Moral & Character

Happiness is our ultimate aim in life

I am aware that this forum is to help people to make money. But after you have made more money than you require, you have to learn how to acquire happiness which should be your ultimate aim in life.

There are many forms of pleasure and the ultimate aim is happiness. Human behavior being motivated by pleasure alone is evidenced from infancy to adulthood. In modern philosophy, human behavior is governed by a need to increase pleasure and decrease pain. All humans live to maximize pleasure.

From an evolutionary perspective, humans and animals primarily seek to survive and protect their lineage. Essentially, the need for the individual and for the individual’s immediate family is to live better and happier. That is why we all have to work to make money to live better and happier every day.

A few years ago, the Perak Academy invited me to give a talk on HAPPINESS. In my research I read the book called The Conquest of Happiness by Lord Bertrand Russell who was one of the greatest British philosophers in the twentieth century. He was a Nobel Winner for literature. It is a very difficult book to read because there are too many big words in every page.

It is a road map for everyone to achieve happiness. It is easier to achieve happiness if you know what causes unhappiness and what makes people happy. It is easier to achieve happiness if you know how to get it. I strongly recommend you to read it.

Let me give you a summary of the book. As I said it is a very difficult book to read and it is even more difficult to make a summary.

The book falls neatly into two halves: the causes of unhappiness and the causes of happiness. The first chapter “What Makes People Unhappy?” can be viewed as an introduction to the book, and the final chapter “The Happy Man” as a conclusion.

Preface: People who are unhappy could become happy if they are well-directed. They only need common sense and not some profound philosophy.

The Causes of Unhappiness

  1. What Makes People Unhappy?

Russell’s purpose is to suggest a cure for the ordinary day-to-day unhappiness from which most people in civilized countries suffer, and which is all the more unbearable because, having no obvious external cause, it appears inescapable. He believed the unhappiness to be largely due to mistaken views of the world, mistaken ethics, mistaken habits of life, leading to the destruction of that natural zest and appetite for possible things upon which all happiness ultimately depends.

  1. Unhappiness

It is common in our day, as it has been in so many other periods of the world’s history, for people who are wise enough, to have seen through all the enthusiasms of earlier times and have become aware that there is nothing left to live for. The wise man will be as happy as circumstances permit, and if he finds the contemplation of the universe painful beyond a point, he will contemplate something else instead.

  1. Competition

Russell paints a bleak picture of the businessman so obsessed by competing with other businessmen for success that the rest of life passes him by. “Success can only be one ingredient in happiness, and is too dearly purchased if all other ingredients have been sacrificed to obtain it.

  1. Boredom and Excitement

We have come to associate boredom with unhappiness and excitement with happiness, but Russell argues that boredom and excitement form a separate axis entirely, having little relationship with happiness. “Running away from enemies who are trying to take one’s life is, I imagine, unpleasant, but certainly not boring. … The opposite of boredom, in a word, is not pleasure, but excitement.” The confusion of excitement and happiness, and the flight from boredom that it entails, is a chief cause of unhappiness. The cure is to teach oneself to endure boredom without running from it.

  1. Fatigue

This chapter is actually about worry. Russell believes that such physical fatigue as people feel in the industrialized world is mostly healthy, and that only “nervous fatigue”, caused largely by worry, is really destructive to happiness. Russell believes most worry could be avoided by learning good thinking habits, by refusing to over-estimate the significance of possible failures, by taking a larger perspective, and by facing fears squarely.

  1. Envy

If you desire glory, you may envy Napoleon. But Napoleon envied Caesar, Caesar envied Alexander, and Alexander, I dare say, envied Hercules, who never existed. You cannot therefore get away from envy by means of success alone. … You can get away from envy by enjoying the pleasures that come your way, by doing the work that you have to do, and by avoiding comparisons with those whom you imagine, perhaps quite falsely, to be more fortunate than yourself.

  1. The Sense of Sin

Traditional religion, in Russell’s view, has saddled us with an ascetic moral code that will make us unhappy if we keep it (by denying us joy in life) and also if we break it (by causing us guilt). The only solution is to root this moral code out of our unconscious, and replace it with a code less inimical to human happiness.

  1. Persecution Mania

This is probably the most amusing chapter of the book, as Russell uses his droll wit to puncture human self-importance. “My purpose in this chapter is to suggest some general reflections by means of which each individual can detect in himself the elements of persecution mania (from which almost everybody suffers in a greater or less degree), and having detected them, can eliminate them. This is an important part of the conquest of happiness, since it is quite impossible to be happy if we feel that everybody ill-treats us.

  1. Fear of Public Opinion

Very few people can be happy unless on the whole their way of life and their outlook on the world is approved by those with whom they have social relations, and more especially by those with whom they live. Fortunately the modern world gives us some choice about where we live and who our friends will be.

The Causes of Happiness

In general, the second half of Conquest is not as impressive as the first. After you know the causes of unhappiness, it is easier to acquire happiness. Once the obstacles to happiness are removed, happiness just happens — somehow.

  1. Is Happiness Still Possible?

Fundamental happiness depends on your friendly interest in persons and things. … The kind of interest in persons that makes for happiness is the kind that likes to observe people and finds pleasure in their individual behavior and trait, but without wanting to control over them or to secure their enthusiastic admiration. The person whose attitude towards others is genuinely of this kind will be a source of happiness and a recipient of reciprocal kindness. To be able to like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness.

  1. Zest

Zest is the x-factor that causes us to be interested in life. Russell has little to say about what zest is or how to obtain it. He does argue against those who would devalue zest by claiming that it is a mark of superior taste not to be interested in vulgar or lowbrow subjects. “All disenchantment is to me a malady which … is to be cured as soon as possible, not to be regarded as a higher form of wisdom. Suppose one man likes strawberries and another does not; in what respect is the latter superior? There is no abstract and impersonal proof that strawberries are good or that they are not good. To the man who likes them they are good, to the man who dislikes them they are not. But the man who likes them has a pleasure which the other does not have; to that extent his life is more enjoyable and he is better adapted to the world in which both must live.”

  1. Affection

One of the chief causes of lack of zest is the feeling that one is unloved, whereas conversely the feeling of being loved promotes zest more than anything else does. Unfortunately, considering the importance of affection to happiness, this chapter is almost completely descriptive rather than prescriptive. Russell describes the types of affection and evaluates their effects, but gives little advice about how to either give or get higher quality affection.

  1. The Family

Of all the institutions that have come down to us from the past none is in the present day so disorganized and derailed as the family. Affection of parents for children and of children for parents is capable of being one of the greatest sources of happiness, but in fact at the present day the relations of parents and children are, in nine cases out of ten, a source of unhappiness to both parties, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred a source of unhappiness to at least one of the two parties. This failure of the family to provide the fundamental satisfactions which in principle it is capable of yielding is one of the most deep-seated causes of the discontent which is prevalent in our age.

  1. Work

Whether work should be placed among the causes of happiness or the causes of unhappiness may perhaps be regarded as a doubtful question. Russell places it among the causes of happiness for a number of reasons:

  1. It passes time.
  2. It provides an opportunity for success.
  3. The work itself may be interesting.
  4. Impersonal Interests

Certain interests are central to a person’s conception of his/her life: career, family, and so forth. In this chapter Russell asserts the value of having interests that are not central, that have no effect on the major issues of life. Such hobbies and pastimes serve two purposes: (1) They provide an escape from larger worries, and distract the conscious mind so that the unconscious can work productively toward a solution. (2) They provide a reserve pool of interest in life, so that if disaster or a series of disasters destroy the pillars that support our central interests, we will have the possibility of growing new central interests.

This chapter contains an important tangential discussion of “greatness of soul” which I discuss under the Transcending Personal Hopes and Interests theme.

  1. Effort and Resignation

What Russell calls resignation is more popularly referred to these days as acceptance. The question discussed in this chapter is basically: Should we try to change the world or accept it the way it is? Russell takes a middle position, roughly equivalent to the Serenity Prayer.

  1. The Happy Man

In the final chapter Russell comes back to his main point: attention should be focused outward, not inward. It is not the nature of most men to be happy in a prison, and the passions which shut us up in ourselves constitute one of the worst kinds of prisons. Among such passions some of the commonest are fear, envy, the sense of sin, self-pity and self-admiration. In all these our desires are centered upon ourselves: there is no genuine interest in the outer world, but only a concern lest it should in some way injure us or fail to feed our ego.


In the book, Russell did not mention any thing about creating happiness by doing charity. After having made more money than you need and knowing that you cannot take any money along when you die, you must use some of my money to help poor people to make them happy. You will be happy to be able to create more happiness.

I wish to elaborate item 7 The Sense of Sin as mentioned above. When I was a young boy I was giving private tuition to a very pretty fair Eurasian girl. We often went to cinemas and in the darkness I was tempted to touch her hands but I was told by my Catholic teachers that premarital sex was a sin. We were separated when I got a scholarship to study engineering. During the first holiday break, I visited my pretty girl friend and I was shocked to see her pregnant. My heart was broken- I lost my Marilyn Monroe.

I trust my effort in writing this article will make more people happy. Instead of giving you fish I am teaching you how to fish.

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