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A Science Of Happiness - Is Such A Thing A Possibility?

( Originally Published 1914 )



During all the time that man has laughed or wept upon this earth, he has felt the stirring of the same longing. Before him, as the ultimate goal, ever remains the ideal of happiness, the supreme crown of all the efforts of his life. Sublime in his disinterestedness, or repulsive in his egotism, man does not cease to regard the problem of happiness as the principal subject of his dreams and of his thoughts. Variations occur only in his comprehension; for, as the lover of pleasure will seek to enrich himself to satisfy the appetites of his body and of his soul, the ascetic will strive to retire from the world to obtain in his solitude the happiness for which he has an equal thirst. He understands it in a different way, but he desires it no less eagerly. Consciously or unconsciously, the' pleasure-lover and the ascetic will move toward the same summit of the mountain, though following different paths.

The long distance that separates us from the end is toilsome to traverse. Many travellers before arriving endure great sufferings. The majority die on the way. The few who attain the goal of their efforts find themselves bruised, ill, or mortally wounded. The victory, once realised, appears illusive. They perceive tardily that they have wasted their lives in trying to seize a butterfly which cannot be caught. Instead of the anticipated happiness, an unutterable melancholy takes possession of their souls. Facing the irreparable, they succumb, discouraged, often infinitely miserable.

Fewer still are those who profited by a sudden light illumining their path. They took advantage of it to change their direction. Who knows? Perhaps they only changed their Calvary.

The dirges of unhappiness which we hear are very sad, but sadder still are those that pass unheard.

II. Despair even inspires a species of terror. Beware of the writers who would dare to maintain its inanity, or oppose to its sneers a moderate trust in life.

A refined thinker, such as Paul Stapfer, will not hesitate to compare them with "fat hogs that grunt contentedly over being well fed and warm in their sty."

"To admit and to cry out our woes" said Richard Jefferies, "is the duty of all beings endowed with reason, for in vain will the worst pessimist describe things in the darkest hues. All that he can say will still remain far inferior to the smallest particle of the reality."

Schopenhauer considers all those who do not believe that life is the worst of frauds, narrow-minded and shallow Philistines.

Dissatisfaction with life is, in its essence, aristocratic. It is somewhat like a garment made in the latest fashion, in harmony with the most refined taste of the most up-to-date leaders. Almost all of those who take seriously their character of missionaries of the truth to men, do not cease to proclaim the law of desolation and of disenchantment. An aggravated melancholy invades our souls like an impetuous torrent sweeping away defenceless houses. Not only do we no longer dare to resist it, but we prevent opposition by covering with ridicule those who are striving to build embankments. "Yes," they say in their turn, "fate is often hard and unjust. Our sufferings are numerous and our pangs in living burst forth at every moment of our existence. But precisely because we are living in the darkness, let us try to bring into this gloom a few rays of hope and joy."

Wretchedly mocked and scorned, these men remain silent, making way for those who mourn and weep.

III. So wails and lamentations echo around us. Everybody believes and calls himself miser-able. Does not this result from a simple misunderstanding? Are we not the victims of a mirage which is all the more dangerous because it constantly increases the number of those who are sacrificed? Should the sole end of progress be to augment our distress, while increasing our comfort? There are numerous scientists who assert that the woe which burdens the human race will become more and more heavy and fatal. Shall we not say that the progress of human evolution displays itself in an inverse ratio to the advance of happiness? What is this inevitable law which would shut us within the tragical dilemma of being able to develop only to the detriment of our happiness?

One phenomenon impresses us when we consider our fellow creatures. While advancing in life, they usually forget the present and live only in the future. When the latter deceives their hopes, they recognise the fact that they have not lived. Around us, before us, behind us, therefore, we behold only people who have fallen on the road, often duped, and almost always sorrowful and wretched.

The moralists usually regard happiness with inconceivable scorn. It drags along behind ethical systems like an importunate shadow. Yet, without the intervention of Happiness, there is nothing stable in human institutions or in moral systems. When it is lacking, there is nothing real, nothing solid in the foundations of life. What is the advantage of overlooking its importance? Happiness, like the gods of ancient Olympus, always arrives in time to make its weight felt in the life of human beings.

IV. The principal problem of our modern life consists in reconciling the old and the new faith. The bygone one taught us that life on earth is only a dung-heap out of which grows the invisible Paradise of our dreams; that of the present day believes that life has a purpose in itself.

We must be happy on earth, with the assurance of being still more so in the future life, say the believers.

We must-be happy on earth, for future happiness is only a deceptive mirage, say the sceptics.

But both should think, like Goethe, that the object of life is life itself.

V. Adapting a quotation from Plato, the Middle Ages drove Happiness from the city. Ranged behind Kant, modern moralists banish from morality all thoughts of happiness. In the history of so many systems that have fallen into ruin, perhaps only the Stoics and the Cynics have spoken of its divinity humanely, with love for those whom it shuns and with joy for those who benefit by its miraculous touch. This has not prevented their doctrines from being thoroughly moral. They knew, first of all, how to identify Happiness with Truth.

The Stoics, it is true, had the courage to exalt Happiness. But their Happiness, in its essence, is sorrowful. It has a dismal severity. It is always mourning lost illusions. Their joy in life is only the serene thought of death. Yet they take leave of the living like guests rising from an endless banquet.

Marcus Aurelius vainly teaches that we ought not to grieve. His soul exhales poison. The divine balance of the best of men is merely a myth, We meet with it only in Renan, who transports the serenity of his own soul into those of his heroes.

We might say of the joy of living and of the happiness of the Stoics what Walter Pater has said of the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius: that we ought to move only with solemn, muffled tread, as it be-seems us to walk in a house where lies a dead man.

They do not weep; they do not tear their hair; they do not give themselves up to paroxysms of boundless grief. This is much. Only the victories of recent life can illumine with rays of joy and true .happiness the austere abode bequeathed to us by our ancestors.

VI. Vainly is happiness driven from the cares of the mind. It returns invisible, through doors which are believed to be hermetically sealed. It takes its place triumphantly in spite of all prohibitions. The noblest of doctrines, Kant's categorical imperative, with its absolute moral necessity, conceived outside of and even in opposition to every idea of Happiness, crumbles logically, when deprived of its support. When a voice commands, Schopenhauer has justly said, it proceeds from within or from without us. It is simply impossible that it should not have the tone of menace, or else that of promise. The person, in listening to either, becomes interested.

And the interest, in the main, is only the thought of Happiness.

Why then do we not march openly under its banner? Why do we not bow before its ubiquity, embracing, as it does, even our dreams and the aspirations of the soul? Let us try to direct its power, to study its operation, to facilitate its beneficent evolution, to make its laws triumph. Let us, in short, try to render it a science.

VII. Why should we scorn happiness, joy? According to Spinoza, joy is perfection. Morality based solely upon duty, has failed. We no longer believe in Kant, but we believe more and more in the only real thing which exists in us, that which, in spite of ourselves and even against our will, guides and leads us: the perception and even the appetite for Happiness.

When this consciousness is perfected and ennobled, Humanity, in its turn, will find itself ennobled and perfected.

All the conflicts of bygone centuries waged around the moral ideal have for their purpose the crushing or the triumph of the ego, the renunciation of human personality or its free development. Self, trampled down and destroyed, became the synonym of virtue. On its ruins were expected to grow the divine qualities of man, as if a luxuriant blossoming could come forth on bare rocks. The reaction, as usual, wandered into excess. Despairing of saving mankind in the mass, it confined itself to causing the triumph of a few exceptional beings. The worship of the strong man, the demi-god, lauded by the Renaissance, and taken up by egotists of every degree, imposes a renunciation of the wrong kind. Asceticism immolated the individual in behalf of the invisible being; egotism sacrifices the community for the benefit of a few stronger and, especially, more rapacious beings. The first disarmed us by its disinterestedness : the second shocks us by the unrestraint of its appetites.

Calmness will be restored to our inflamed aspirations only when we admit happiness for all in the same degree.

VIII. The right to life, the right to wages, the right of the aged and the infirm to the aid of the Government, and so many of the other victories of modern life, will end by having their supreme achievement in the right to Happiness.

Est Deus in nobis. God is in us all. The human soul, inspired by religion or by science; man, son of God, or man, source of the intelligence, will end by bowing before this primordial principle of the human personality. Life will divest itself of uniformity by dissolving itself according to the innumerable varieties of souls.

There is no higher sovereignty than self-mastery, said da Vinci. Only, what the peerless Leonardo claimed for himself must be admitted in favour of all, including the humble and the dispossessed. Let us aid them to regain their dominion by rendering life sweet and friendly. They must be rulers in the realm of their ego, for they are all men.

Why philosophise beside the mark? Let us question human nature. Relieved from all restraint, it will answer us with brutal frankness: Happiness is my organic need. I require it as I do food or air. We eat poorly, we breathe badly, and yet we live. But, to make the human ego unfold and flower, let it be developed in Happiness.

People who are nobly happy constitute the power, the beauty, and the foundation of the nation. All who seek and obtain Happiness contribute to the prosperity and to the moral development of the community. They form the flower and the hope of their native land.

The perception of Happiness is immutable. It is the part of the wise man to give to the invincible desire a lofty and divine meaning.

IX. Our conceptions, influenced by past asceticism, by false piety, and by ignorance of the divine laws, prevent us from accepting the right to Happiness. They even cause us to reject this new duty which modern life imposes: the duty of being happy. We ought to be happy, as we ought to love our own city, to be devoted to its interests, and to work for the benefit of the community.

The happiness of our native country and of our fellow creatures is dear to us. So much the better. Let us begin by caring for our personal happiness. As Ellen Key has justly said, it is impossible to attend to the feeding of our neighbours until we have satisfied our own hunger and thirst. A per-son suffering from typhoid fever finds it difficult to nurse his friend. A reformer who, indifferent to his own happiness, expresses the wish to obtain it for others, resembles a blind man who would fain guide those who can see. A little patience, and we shall witness, in the city of the future, how the most recent duty, that of being happy, will take its revenge and triumphantly occupy the place of its annihilated rivals. For Happiness, like tears and laughter, is communicable. Learn to be happy, or still better, be happy, and every one around you will be happier and better.

X. The recommendations of the aaesthetes to live and to die in beauty should have for a corollary to live and to die in Happiness.

After having fully exhausted our ego, after having realised its tastes and its aspirations, we shall lie down in the evening of our life with a sense of serenity and satisfaction akin to that the labourer experiences who falls asleep after the day's work given for the benefit of his land.

XI. Life is not only worth the trouble of being lived; it imposes, besides, the duty of living our own life. Whoever has not been happy has failed in his duties. Perhaps he has passed through life in a dream, but he has no more lived than a lunatic lives when he unconsciously runs over the roofs of houses.

Those who are not conscious of their Happiness, those who live outside of its earnest appeals and its genuine needs, recall the soldiers in Detaille's great picture, Le Reve. They have fought in a dream, suffered and enjoyed in their slumbering imagination, without profit—to themselves or to their native land.

Modern thought openly proclaims or indirectly betrays the cares and the duties of individual Happiness. John Ruskin rightly asserts that the will of God is that we should live through Happiness for the benefit of the lives of our brothers, and not by their poverty and their death. Men mutually help one another by their joys, but not by their sorrows. John Lubbock makes joy an elementary duty of the modern men. He tells us that we ought to be as joyous as possible, because to be happy ourselves is an excellent method of aiding the happiness of others. The pessimists, who grieve over the sadness and the disappointments of life, or the optimists, who exalt its beauties, bow with the same reverence before the god Happiness. The rebellion of haughty intellects such as Nietzsche, Shelley, Carlyle, or so many others, and their fierce egotism, are merely the result of their ignorance that happiness is a possibility for all. Believing it unattainable by the mass, they claim it for the demi-gods or super-men. But true happiness is so much the greater and deeper in the proportion that it embraces and unites in a fraternal chain more men, more countries, more worlds.

As joy does not mean simple enjoyment, Happiness must not be confounded with anti-social egotism or the satisfaction of low instincts. It will be the part of the Science of Happiness to point out the foundations of Happiness, at once thoroughly noble' and infinitely lasting, foundations which are accessible to the whole human race.

XII. We do not allow ourselves to be intoxicated by the religion of self-sacrifice, of altruism toward all and for all, and especially by that of the, future existence. They pass by the side of life. Their worship has never been anything but a worship of words. Impracticable, and not practised, they have falsified the divine meaning of our ego. Now, the law we have had should never be a chain. We are quits with it, according to the counsels of a moralist, when we have wrapped it carefully in a purple shroud, in which the dead gods sleep.

XIII. Nature, we are told, knows only the species. She neglects and dooms the individual. Nature is calumniated. Science is libelled in the same way. Pereat mundus, fiant pilulca, shout certain healers. Long live the pills, perish the patients! What would the pills do without the patients, what would the species do without the individual? Can an edifice be preserved by removing the stones of which it is composed?

Does nature aim only at preserving the species? What do we know about it? We have small acquaintance with her metaphysical intentions. Yet those which she took care to reveal to us show that, if she pays little attention to the individual, she takes no greater account of the species. The history of the fauna and of the flora is only one vast cemetery, where are found millions of dead species. Some among these defunct varieties were admirably organised; perhaps they might even have disputed man's place, like that anthropoid, the Dryopithecus, who seemed predestined to a brilliant future.

In reality, nature has no consideration for either individual or species. So we should not permit ourselves to be led into error by her vague plans, but occupy ourselves instead with the real happiness of man.

XIV. Egoisms vary, as our souls differ. There are sublime ones, which furnish the weapons for the noble conflicts of life and spread the contagion of energy, of hope, of joy. We should do wrong to speak ill of "love of self," as we should err in slandering nature because, by the side of heavenly landscapes, it possesses marshy waters.

What are the abnegation of the saints, the disinterestedness of hardened altruists, except variations of the numberless forms of egoism, which assumes every shape, including that of personal sacrifice. The acquirer of wealth who gives to his children a portion of his treasures; the mother who loves life, yet risks her own at the bedside of her child attacked by typhoid fever; the lover who sacrifices himself for the lady of his heart, are only yielding to the impulses of their lofty egoism.

We defer the realisation of our egoism for a future payment, or we coin it at once. We consent to be rewarded in heaven, or we seek satisfactions here below. It procures divine pleasures for the god in man; it furnishes animal joys to the beast in man. It enthrones itself in the depths of our souls and rules there according to their essence.

The Greeks, in their beliefs, which bear the imprint of sincerity, saw in their gods thoroughly selfish beings. The gods of Olympus acted solely under the impetus of their personal interests. Our Phariseeism attributes to men qualities which the ancients denied to the gods themselves.

After all, if the genius of nature, listening to the stupid desires of certain Paytone+Ones, had uprooted from our souls the love of self, mankind would have ceased to live. In losing the essential principle of the conservation of the species, man would have lost, at the same time, the necessity of continuing his existence. Never would he have consented to drag it on for the sake of others.

By classing self-love (egotism) with the most degraded tendencies of our hearts, we have succeeded in defaming Happiness, which has become almost a shameful desire of our ego, instead of being its glory and its crown. Have not certain moralists gone so far as to proscribe the word Happiness?

XV. There is something singular in the fact that among so many sciences of which mankind is proud, not one of them should be consecrated to Happiness. Is it possible? Such a science needed first to be planted, so that later its fruits could be examined. It should have been given the opportunity to interest the mass of humanity. All the nations of the earth should have been able to communicate in its universally admitted laws. Profiting by the observations and lessons that came from the four quarters of the globe, it would have been able, in its turn, to embellish the lives of human beings of whatever origin, colour, or faith.

Religions in the name of heaven, Paytone+Ones in the name of human fraternity, have always preached the necessity for peace. Yet wars have not ceased to stain the earth with blood. For a century, we have been taught that peace is necessary to our happiness, and the horror of war invades our souls and is implanted in our minds.

Why should we reproach men for seeking unrealisable goals? Is not progress a continual

According to Carlyle, the word happiness ought to give place to a higher condition, blessedness.

So long live the Science of Happiness, based upon the possibility of Happiness for all, through all!

We marvel when we think of the wealth of elements which the Science of Happiness will meet upon its way. All its sisters, in union, are really working for its triumph. Hygiene or medicine, philosophy or morality, technical or political sciences, the biography of the illustrious dead, all are keeping incalculable treasures for the youngest born. Amid these fields of precious stones, she will have only to point out and to gather whatever objects she may choose.



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