Conclusion On How To Be Happy
( Originally Published 1914 )
I. Life imposes upon us duties, but it also gives us rights. Too much has been said of the former, while the latter has been overlooked. We have not understood that, by harmonising the burdens and the pleasures of life, we render the former easier and the latter more permanent. Happiness is the fruit of the union between the severe commands of life and its caresses.
The science of happiness chiefly proves that the . real happiness of the individual is joined with that of society. An isolated happiness is as unstable as would be the fate of a rich man amid neighbours who were starving to death.
Our life and our happiness depend in the first place upon ourselves, for everything that tends to illuminate our existence with lasting joy, to render it beautiful and attractive, is found within us.
Genuine happiness consists in living our own life. That is the real, intense life, of which so much has been said in these latter days. But, intense life is only the omnipotent desire to live and to live happily. Our will contains inexhaustible treasures of felicity, and toward its strengthening, its development, and the enrichment of its contents, a life conscious of its aims must tend.
Happiness thus understood is first of all in accord with morality, for it finds itself in complete harmony with the noblest social aspirations.
II. The more we reflect, the more we find that happiness is exclusively a product of the moral life. Material conditions undoubtedly contribute to it, as rain and fine weather increase the fertility of the soil, but the sky can do nothing without the soil itself.
Personal happiness is never in conflict with social happiness, so long as it allows itself to be guided by the true value of the principles of life. It is the conventional conception, elaborated through the centuries, regarding wealth, envy, the pleasures or the domination of men, which makes us seek objects contrary to social prosperity.
The contradictions which are visible between individual and social happiness are only apparent. These are chiefly due to a superannuated education whose conventional foundations have not changed for thousands of years. When this education, better directed, has transformed our ideas of things, certain laws will become superfluous, as has already happened to certain rules of hygiene or of public decency.
Therefore we shall find it is often sufficient merely to perceive genuine happiness, to bring it shining among us.
The contradictions between our egotism or our interest and that of our environment, it is true, do not cease to sadden us. We deplore their fatal hostility, and go so far as to conceive doubts of the possibility of a better humanity.
But we forget that it is not our real interest which causes so much evil, but our incapacity to comprehend our real interest.
We ought to move toward and to realise happiness. This aspiration of our souls acting within us permanently, we must render its object loftily moral in order to have our life, in its turn, ennobled and dignified in its essence.
There is a pedagogy of happiness, and its possibilities are infinite. Given the appetite for happiness, this pedagogy will create the most efficacious means of becoming happy. Among other precepts it will implant in the human mind that it is not wishes fulfilled, but duties accomplished, which most surely and most easily procure happiness.
Our morality and our life, being restored to their real sources, guided and inspired by an instinctive and innate necessity which hovers as sovereign lord above the ages and the vague humanities, will find themselves for that very reason solidified and endowed with a vitality that bids defiance to the doubts and the paralysis of our intellect.
I will go further. Morality, thus conceived, will answer to a sort of categorical imperative, not transcendental, after the method of Kant, but human and operating within the limits of our faculties. When we disobey the morality of happiness, we disobey, at the same time, the exigencies of life. We diminish our own personality and condemn ourselves to a slow suicide.
This morality is thus united to the fate of man by indissoluble bonds, bonds of flesh and of aspiration, of the body and of the soul.
We need only transfer the ideas of the sublime consciousness into the unconsciousness, and happiness, vivified and ennobled by the Force-Ideas, will offer us the most human of moralities.
III. Everything warrants the belief that the human race is moving through the ages, towards a juster appreciation of the object and the essence of life.
Human perfectibility is without limits. When we think that beings like Jesus Christ, Buddha, Zarathustra, or Saint Francis of Assisi were born in environments filled with vice and moral corruption, we feel almost dazzled by the idea of those who will come into the world as products of our more and more social and altruistic civilisation. The action of these highly gifted souls has deeply impressed human beings and has changed their lives and their ideals. A few more personalities of this elevation of mind and of heart, and our moral conceptions will rise many degrees. According to Herbert Spencer, human evolution will some day lead us to such a height, that moral conduct will be instinctive and will dispense with all constraint. After all, moral life, with its endless extent, lends itself better to change than do certain physiological peculiarities. Yet Burbank has succeeded in growing cacti without thorns and plums without stones. Have we not now numerous varieties of thornless roses? Let us have faith in the triumph of men who will know how to rid themselves some day of the pretences which destroy the joy of living.
Teachers of oecological botany show us how, under the influence of Alpine or Polar climates, annuals are transformed into biennial or perennial species. What will men develop into under the influence of the new moral currents which are visibly appearing on the horizon?
The attempt has been made to find in the blind a sixth sense, the sense of obstacles. One thing is certain, that we all have within us the sense of happiness, but it is closely hidden in the depths of our being; it is distorted and covered by a deposit of artificial feelings.
Let us endeavour to release it from these; let us restore it to its proper position by destroying the prejudices which stifle and prevent its manifestation.
Above all, let us educate it. Some day, the sense of happiness, bursting forth in the plenitude of its powers, will transform the moral universe.
IV. Therefore, let us not despair of individual and collective happiness. Both have extremely deep roots. Auxiliaries are coming to them from all directions. The world has become more kindly to us, and its mysterious forces are rendering themselves the slaves of man. He understands and utilises them better. The Infinite, subjected to rigorous laws, seems to be more friendly. At any rate, it is less threatening. We are taking possession more and more of the earth, and even of the air. Discounting, in advance, the duration of our stay on earth, we desire it to be equitable.
Brutal conquests are daily becoming more repugnant to us. Man's purified conscience is opposed to the unjust spoliations committed to the detriment of his brothers.. On the earth, whose crust has been hardened and rendered solid by the ages, we aspire to a life governed by stable laws, and not by the caprices of Force.
Sociology only raises our hopes. Progress, like the divine artist of Homer, engraves upon the brass of time scenes of peace and of happiness. A gentle and smiling fairy appears to preside over the human destinies of the future.
We are daily more respectful toward one another. Our dignity is ascending step by step, as well as our sentiments of justice and of truth. There are more joy and sympathy on our planet. Sorrow seems to be weaker. Some day mankind will shelter in its bosom, with the same love, the children of every colour and of every creed.
Meanwhile, half the human race, namely the women, are profiting by more equity. From the rank of the slaves of man, or of inferior beings, we behold them elevated to the level of his equals.
The State is multiplying its duties and performing them in a more satisfactory manner. It is becoming reconciled to the principle of equality. It is more attentive to the voice of Justice. It is urging, in any case, a more and more equitable distribution of burdens and of duties.
Thought descends into the huts of the disinherited to bring caressing dreams. The hope of earthly salvation fills our hearts. This hope rests mainly upon Solidarity and her companion, Goodness, which some day will take possession of our planet. These anticipations gladden the life of collective mankind, as the hope of success and of happiness animates individually almost all its members.
Have I succeeded in establishing the possibility and the benefits of the Science of Happiness? My attempt is doubtless imperfect. So be it. Do we condemn painting because an unskilful artist gives an inadequate idea of beauty? After me, or along with me, others will succeed far better in achieving the triumph of the thesis which I hold dear. I will add that they will not be capable of loving it more ardently....