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Conduct Of Life:
Manners When Travelling
How To Dress
Of A Happy Life And Wherein It Consists
Man The Maker Of Happiness
Happiness Through The Pursuit And Use Of Money
The Art Of Having Time
The Miracle Of Tact
Frienship - Part 1
Friendship - Part 2
Friendship - Part 3
The Simple Life
The Essence Of Simplicity
Right Living As A Fine Art
( Originally Published 1913 )
There is not anything in this world, perhaps, that is more talked of, and less understood, than the business of a happy life. It is every man's wish and design; and yet not one of a thousand that knows wherein that happiness consists. We live, however, in a blind and eager pursuit of it; and the more haste we make in a wrong way, the farther we are from our journey's end. Let us therefore, first, consider "what it is we should be at"; and, secondly, "which is the readiest way to compass it." If we be right, we shall find every day how much we improve; but if we either follow the cry, or the track, of people that are out of the way, we must expect to be misled, and to continue our days in wandering and error. Wherefore, it highly concerns us to take along with us a skilful guide; for it is not in this, as in other voyages, where the highway brings us to our place of repose; or if a man should happen to be out, where the inhabitants might set him right again: but on the contrary, the beaten road is here the most dangerous, and the people, instead of helping us, misguide us. Let us not therefore follow, like beasts, but rather govern ourselves by reason than by example. It fares with us in human life as in a routed army; one stumbles first, and then another falls upon him, and so they follow, one upon the neck of another, until the whole field comes to be but one heap of miscarriages. And the mischief is "that the number of the multitude carries it against truth and justice"; so that we must leave the crowd, if we would be happy: for the question of a happy life is not to be decided by vote: nay, so far from it, that plurality of voices is still an argument of the wrong; the common people find it easier to believe than to judge, and content themselves with what is usual, never examining whether it be good or not. By the common people is intended the man of title as well as the clouted shoe: for I do not distinguish them by the eye but by the mind, which is the proper judge of the man. Worldly felicity, I know, makes the head giddy; but if ever a man comes to himself again, he will confess, that "whatsoever he has done, he wishes undone"; and that "the things he feared were better than those he prayed for."
The true felicity of life is to be free from perturbations; to understand our duties toward God and man; to enjoy the present without any anxious dependence upon the future. Not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears; but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is abundantly sufficient; for he that is so, wants nothing. The great blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach; but we shut our eyes, and, like people in the dark, we fall foul upon the very thing we search for without finding it. "Tranquillity is a certain equality of mind, which no condition of fortune can either exalt or depress." Nothing can make it less: for it is the state of human perfection; it raises us as high as we can go; and makes every man his own supporter; whereas he that is borne up by anything else may fall. He that judges aright, and perseveres in it, enjoys a perpetual calm: he takes a true prospect of things; he observes an order, measure, a decorum in all his actions; he has a benevolence in his nature; he squares his life according to reason; and draws to himself love and admiration. Without a certain and an unchangeable judgment, all the rest is but fluctuation: but "he that always wills and nills the same thing, is undoubtedly in the right." Liberty and serenity of mind must necessarily ensue upon the mastering of those things which either allure or affright us; when instead of those flashy pleasures (which even at the best are both vain and hurtful together) we shall find ourselves possessed of joy transporting and everlasting. It must be a sound mind that makes a happy man; there must be a constancy in all conditions, a care for the things of this world, but without trouble; and such an indifferency for the bounties of fortune, that either with them, or without them, we may live contentedly. There must be neither lamentation nor quarreling, nor sloth, nor fear; for it makes a discord in a man's life. "He that fears, serves." The joy of a wise man stands firm without interruption; in all places at all times and in all conditions his thoughts are cheerful and quiet. As it never came in to him from without, so it will never leave him; but it is born within him, and inseparable from him. It is a solicitous life that is egged on with the hope of any thing, though never so open and easy, nay, though a man should never suffer any sort of disappointment. I do not speak this either as a bar to the fair enjoyment of lawful pleasures, or to the gentle flatteries of reasonable expectations: but, on the contrary, I would have men to be always in good humor, provided that it arises from their own souls, and be cherished in their own breasts. Other delights are trivial; they may smooth the brow, but they do not fill and affect the heart. "True joy is a serene and sober motion;" and they are miserably out that take laughing for rejoicing. The seat of it is within, and there is no cheerfulness like the resolution of a brave mind, that has fortune under his feet. He that can look death in the face, and bid it welcome; open his door to poverty, and bridle his appetites; this is the man whom Providence has established in the possession of inviolable delights. The pleasures of the vulgar are ungrounded, thin, and superficial; but the other are solid and eternal. As the body itself is rather a necessary thing, than a great; so the comforts of it are but temporary and vain; beside that, without extraordinary moderation, their end is only pain and repentance; whereas a peaceful conscience, honest thoughts, virtuous actions, and an indifference for casual events, are blessings without end, satiety, or measure. This consummated state of felicity is only a submission to the dictate of right nature; "The foundation of it is wisdom and virtue; the knowledge of what we ought to do, and the conformity of the will to that knowledge."
How many things are there that the fancy makes terrible by night which the day turns into ridiculous! What is there in labor, or in death, that a man should be afraid of? They are much slighter in act than in contemplation; and we may contemn them, but we will not: so that it is not because they are hard that we dread them, but they are hard because we are first afraid of them. Pains, and other violences of Fortune, are the same thing to us that goblins are to children: we are more scared with them than hurt. We take up our opinions upon trust, and err for company, still judging that to be best that has most competitors. We make a false calculation of matters, because we advise with opinion, and not with Nature; and this misleads us to a higher esteem for riches, honor, and power than they are worth: we have been used to admire and recommend them, and a private error is quickly turned into a public. The greatest and the smallest things are equally hard to be comprehended; we account many things great, for want of understanding what effectually is so: and we reckon other things to be small, which we find frequently to be of the highest value. Vain things only move vain minds. The accidents that we so much boggle at are not terrible in themselves, but they are made so by our infirmities; but we consult rather what we hear than what we feel, without examining, opposing, or discussing the things we fear; so that we either stand still and tremble, or else directly run for it, as those troops did, that, upon the raising of the dust, took a flock of sheep for the enemy. When the body and mind are corrupted, it is no wonder if all things prove intolerable; and not because they are so in truth; but because we are dissolute and foolish: for we are infatuated to such a degree, that, betwixt the common madness of men, and that which falls under the care of the physician, there is but this difference, the one labors of a disease, and the other of a false opinion.
The Stoics hold, that all those torments that commonly draw from us groans and ejaculations are in themselves trivial and contemptible. But these highflown expressions apart (how true soever) let us discourse the point at the rate of ordinary men, and not make ourselves miserable before our time; for the things we apprehend to be at hand may possibly never come to pass. Some things trouble us more than they should, other things sooner; and some things again disorder us that ought not to trouble us at all; so that we either enlarge, or create, or anticipate our disquiets. For the first part, let it rest as a matter in controversy; for that which I account light, another perhaps will judge insupportable! One man laughs under the lash, and another whines for a fillip. How sad a calamity is poverty to one man, which to another appears rather desirable than inconvenient? For the poor man, who has nothing to lose, has nothing to fear: and he that would enjoy himself to the satisfaction of his soul, must be either poor indeed, or at least look as if he were so. Some people are extremely dejected with sickness and pain; whereas Epi-curus blessed his fate with his last breath, in the acutest torments of the stone imaginable. And so for banishment, which to one man is so grievous, and yet to another is no more than a bare change of place: a thing that we do every day for our health, pleasure, nay, and upon the account even of common business. How terrible is death to one man, which to another appears the greatest providence in nature, even toward all ages and conditions! It is the wish of some, the relief of many, and the end of all. It sets the slave at liberty, carries the banished man home, and places all mortals upon the same level: insomuch, that life itself were punishment without it. When I see tyrants, tortures, violences, the prospect of death is a consolation to me, and the only remedy against the injuries of life.
Nay, so great are our mistakes in the true estimate of things, that we have hardly done anything that we have not had reason to wish undone; and we have found the things we feared to be more desirable than those we coveted. Our very prayers have been more pernicious than the curses of our enemies; and we must pray again to have our former prayers forgiven. Where is the wise man that wishes to himself the wishes of his mother, nurse, or his tutor; the worst of enemies, with the intention of the best of friends? We are undone if their prayers be heard; and it is our duty to pray that they may not; for they are no other than well-meaning execrations. They take evil for good, and one wish fights with another: give me rather the contempt of all those things whereof they wish me the greatest plenty. We are equally hurt by some that pray for us, and by others that curse us: the one imprints in us a false fear, and the other does us mischief by a mistake: so that it is no wonder if mankind be miserable, when we are brought up from the very cradle under the imprecations of our parents. We pray for trifles, without so much as thinking of the greatest blessings; and we are not ashamed many times to ask God for that which we should blush to own to our neighbour.