Happiness Is Within Us
( Originally Published 1914 )
When we begin to reflect upon the importance of some of the storms of life that we have weathered we are amazed to discover their insignificance. The most intense moral sufferings pale singularly in the light of reflection, and assume a new form. We no longer even understand past sensations and terrors. The same idea applies to the great dramas of our existence. Under their immediate domination, our minds are bewildered. We are not able to think, and we do not even wish to survive them. Their wounds appear incurable, and our life appears to be blighted for ever.
Let us examine ourselves a few days after the cruel ordeal. Released from the brutal influence of the moment, our mind is beginning to investigate the situation. Looking within ourselves, we are astonished to sec how greatly our feelings have changed. What has become of the irreparable misfortune? What has become of the eternal suffering? We are seized with amazement. Could grief and misfortune amuse themselves at our expense? Would reality foil them?
Let us permit another interval of time to elapse, and then begin again the task of comparing our feelings. Another surprise awaits us. Our sorrows, our acute emotions of despair have suffered a further diminution. Their intensity having disappeared, their faded forms are no longer recognisable. Something vague has replaced our grief. A day comes when we smile indulgently at past misfortunes. We no longer find in them anything except a subject of study of the changing conditions of our souls.
This transformation often occurs suddenly under the influence of a person dear to our hearts, whose influence swiftly drives away the clouds that darken the real aspect of things. For consolations have no other object. When they emanate from a gifted mind, they aim simply to snatch the mask from the incidents which are governing us. If they do not always attain their goal, it is be-cause intelligent comprehension of the souls of others is so rare.
A mother's grief for her lost child doubtless threatens to last a lifetime. But we are considering only the causes of ordinary unhappiness, the source of daily sorrows, and not exceptional forms. Yet even the most cruel sufferings are finally softened.
II. Do not the various degrees of our unhappiness, its constant transformation in our minds, the dependence of its intensity and its extent upon the sensibility of the individual, all prove that the source of our sufferings is found within ourselves? The external world makes our sensibility vibrate, and it responds like a piano to the touch of the performer. But the latter will vainly possess amazing power; he can produce no sounds without the aid of the instrument. A still better analogy of our relation to misfortune is that of an artist standing before the notes of a score. The sweet or mournful tones of our voices follow the external signs, but the unhappiness, like the sounds, is within ourselves.
From this condition of affairs one comforting truth is apparent. Happiness and misery being in the majority of cases only the fruits of our own sensibility, and the latter forming, in its turn, only a portion of our minds, we become, by that very fact, the authors of our happiness and our grief.
Circumstances occurring outside of ourselves are_ difficult to conquer, but the formation of our ego, its mode of existence and of thought are within our power. Since we find it an impossibility to change the factors without, let us alter those within. Being unable to aspire to the mastery of things and of men, let us try to govern and direct our desires. It is difficult for us to have servants, palaces, and millions; it is easier to drive this longing from our hearts. When, serious and thoughtful, the mind comes to dwell upon the things it formerly so ardently desired, it will reveal to us, with a smile, their emptiness. So long as people believed in the devil, he showed himself to men. The abandonment of the belief in his omnipotence was sufficient to make him cease to disturb even their dreams.
III. A calm estimate of our desires often results in their disappearance. There comes a period even when the eager appetites for inaccessible things are almost entirely appeased. And as reflection eliminates the fear of evil spirits, the cause of unhappiness to superstitious people, deliberate thought, coming to our aid, can always affect and often dispels our superstitions of luxury, of wealth, of false ambition, and of so many other torments that influence our life.
The happiness thus gained becomes an acquisition equalling all the blessings of this world. We no longer believe solely in visible things. But the existence of the famous dead, of men honest and wise in their sincere confession, brings us countless proofs that happiness is in direct dependence upon our ego. "We seek," cries an ancient moralist, "hiding-places, pastoral grottoes, rustic huts, mountains, sea beaches, for what purpose?—since thou art permitted to retire within thyself."
The Stoics justly said that the happy man is he whom chance could neither elevate nor humble. Whoever succeeds in subordinating his happiness to the state of his mind, creates for himself an inviolable refuge, an impregnable fortress, a just, kind, and trustworthy master.
IV. In reflecting upon the troubles and the pleasures of life, we easily perceive that both are merely the children of our brain. That is what gives them the final impress and classifies them in our intelligence. Our opinion of things, the principal source of our happiness, is only the pro-duct of our mentality, the fruit, in its turn, of our education. There is a sort of continuous chain, all of whose links—education, mentality, opinions—are thus dependent upon ourselves.
Glory excites, animates, sustains, and ruins so many human lives! Yet so many others are left untouched! The desire for wealth, which poisons the existence of the modern man, acts only upon certain individuals. Power, which attracts and fascinates some persons, does not appeal to the imagination of others. In certain countries, like France and the United States, there is even a class of politicians from which are recruited the aspirants to the government. It is always the same little nucleus which furnishes the masters; the other members of society, often even the best ones, turn aside with disgust from what they term the wretched political caldron. There are people who would give half their lives for a rare decoration or a title of nobility. There are others who undergo all sorts of humiliations in order to be able to frequent what they call good society, composed for the most part of idle and intellectually narrow people. The happiness of some consists in sitting at the table of the Caesars, others find it in companionship with the kings of the mind. Some dream of the heights, mounted upon which they will be seen by the greatest number of their contemporaries; others of modest refuges and an ideal forgetfulness.
Let us follow the endless scale of our dreams of happiness, and we shall see their limitless variations.
V. The things around us remain immutable in their essence. It is man who torments himself and suffers by coveting them. If the objects of our ardent desires had a soul, they would fill the world with sarcastic laughter. Perhaps that might save the world, for it would understand ridicule.
When we think that our entire life depends upon certain words which, by dint of repetition, become our opinions, we are justly astonished at our negligence concerning them.
Most persons spend more time upon the arrangement of their hair, than they do in forming or correcting the opinions on which their happiness depends.
We are vexed with people who give us bad advice concerning the purchase of furniture. We do not forgive a man who has sold us a lame horse. We inquire diligently concerning the quality of the wines we want to buy. We blush at having been deceived by an unscrupulous banker. Yet we accept and retain without control false opinions concerning many things.
We refuse adulterated wines and ill-baked bread; we are on our guard when we are eating in a doubtful place; but we maintain a constant intercourse with people whose ideas we know to be false and their souls depraved. Their action is far more dangerous, for they sow around them misfortune and corruption.
The human race will realise one of its noblest reforms when it understands that it is just as important, when seeking happiness, not to live on false opinions as it is not to eat adulterated foods.
VI. The substance of things escapes us. It has, moreover, no share in our happiness. It is in vain that the objects of our longings remain the same, our attitude with regard to them does not. Wealth, ambition, power, fame, the distinctions or the charms of polished society retain their virtues, and never change. The ribbon of the Legion of Honour retains its crimson hue and that of the academic palms keeps the violet shade. Yet the ardent longings of some are offset by the contempt of others. Nay, more; how is it that we should so consumingly desire the very ribbon to which, a few years later, we shall be entirely indifferent?
The same object which inspires some with overwhelming thrills of yearning makes many others smile! Where we see a source of happiness, others behold only a source of ridicule. While our education tends only toward concrete goals, a shallow comprehension of life and the conquest of wealth, there are superior minds which detach themselves from these things and declare our education and our life, as the majority of men understand it, defective from the standpoint of happiness.
The Faubourg Saint-Germain, fixed in a conventional mould, has a fully established physiognomy. Yet its vices and its charms appeal differently to the taste of men. Some of our writers, to form a portion of it, have sacrificed their independence and their originality, while many others would not give up a single line of their works to enter its precincts.
How profound is this thought of Emerson: Man is a monarch, who abdicates when he goes into the world !
"The sole value of life," Renan tells us, "is through devotion to truth and goodness. This principle, though fatal to worldly success, nevertheless is fruitful of happiness! The purpose of a noble life should be an ideal and disinterested pursuit!"
Augustin Thierry, blind and ill, is enraptured by the delights obtained through his devotion to science, which yields more than fortune and all material pleasures.
In his touching exhortation to Brother Leo, Saint Francis of Assisi tells us that even if our brother throws us on the ground, rolls us in the snow, makes us feel, while beating us, every knot in his cudgel, we shall find perfect joy therein, if we bear these things with cheerfulness for the love of the Saviour.
What a charming exclamation was that of Saint Theresa in speaking of the demons: "Unhappy creatures, they do not love!" Love of truth or of science, love of the Saviour, as well as love of our neighbour, are individual sources of happiness. These sources are found within our-selves, and the objects or the entities outside count as nothing.
VII. Let us be more explicit. The desire for wealth appears to be general. The omnipotent million exercises a universal influence. We are told that it crushes the firmest characters, and reduces to fragments the most stable principles of societies and of individuals. Yet the best men remain insensible to its. appeals and its smiles. Its attractions and charms also dwell, not in it-self, but in us. It is we who adorn, we who be-stow upon it invincible powers and numberless allurements. We need only examine it from a certain point of view, and its intoxicating beauties will vanish forever.
VIII. One of the teachers of my childhood, who excelled in relating parables, said to me one day: " There is a country which no one enters except myself. When once there, I find a resplendent kingdom, full of mysterious charms. I am received as a respected and beloved master. The inhabitants kneel before me. Sometimes sorrowful because they have succumbed to invincible temptations; sometimes joyous because they have resisted the snares of life, they confide to me their griefs and their joys. I listen with interest, some-times pitying, always delighted. Then, in taking leave of them, I say: ` Beings of my being, continue to think of him who lives in you, as you live in him.' And the moments spent in this fascinating kingdom, amid fraternal thoughts and souls, are the sweetest of my existence. Why must I go there so rarely? A time will come, however, when every one will have the faculty of spending a large portion of his life in this happy country; for access to it will become more and more easy.
Long after, I understood the meaning of these words.
IX. The more we reflect, the more we perceive that Happiness dwells within us. Through a regrettable lack of comprehension, we wear out our lives in seeking it elsewhere. When, fatigued and bewildered, we return within ourselves, we find the divine flame dull or extinguished.
Our sufferings, our despondency, our woes, are almost invariably only the products of our thoughts. What is more terrifying to the minds of the majority of men than the dread of inevitable death? Yet it seems sweet and consoling to all who have thought of it differently. The death inflicted upon the Christian martyrs in the Roman arenas freezes us with terror. A thrill of horror makes us tremble at the idea of beings mutilated while alive. And yet it is said that Saint Perpetua, torn by a bull, before dying, bound up and arranged her hair because she did not wish to seem to mourn in the midst of glory and joy.
X. We hold a position toward life corresponding to that of the tourists toward the tea-houses into which people take their own provisions. Every-thing that constitutes our pleasures or our sorrows is carried within and drawn from our own selves. External circumstances influence man, but man acts upon circumstances. He often creates and almost always modifies them. Circumstances possess the value which we are able and under-stand how to give them. Coarse souls remain under the domination of circumstances as primitive ones do under the rule of the elements of nature. By perfecting himself, man obtains more and more mastery over events.
Everything that surrounds us becomes angel or fiend according to the condition of our hearts, rightly asserts the author of Wisdom and Destiny. Joan of Arc hears the saints and Macbeth the witches, and nothing befalls us which is not of the same nature as ourselves.
The important thing is to become better acquainted with our souls, an acquaintance which later may aid in their development. There can be no happiness greater than that of bringing our life and our thoughts into harmony. When we lead an existence in conformity with our aptitudes, with the mysterious inclinations of conscience, we feel the most intense gratification that is attainable by the human race.
XI. The ideal sense of delight consists in spending wittingly our inward treasure. Daily life vainly bends us to its requirements. Behind it, independent of it, remains a vast and inaccessible empire: it is that of our inner life. There we can live as sovereigns, happy and proud amid our royal thoughts.
The delights of the inner life are completed by those of action. The return within ourselves which does not degenerate into morbid reverie, develops our energy. The two worlds of thought and of action thus gain, in their contact, both intensity and purity. As sleep, by strengthening the organism, enables it to meet the labour of the day, salutary reflection, the pilgrimage into the depths of our ego, facilitates our domination of the. external world and its utilisation for lofty purposes.
Examples abound. Let us choose the most conclusive. After having spent his nights in writing the book, On the Subject of Himself, Marcus Aurelius, ever handsome and young, during the day directs, in the most admirable manner, one of the most profitless expeditions. In this cruel campaign against the Quadi and the Marcomanni, worn by dullness and fatigue on the banks of the Gran or the Danube, at Carnuntum or Vienna, the best of men draws from the exquisite intimacy of his own ego the strength for the military profession he found so distasteful.
XII. The objects so ardently desired by all somewhat resemble the gods created by man, for they owe to man their best qualities. It is man who has endowed the gods with all the attractions which he holds dear. Their magnanimity, their omniscience, their compassion for human misery, their supernatural goodness or wickedness, what are all these qualities if not the gifts generously bestowed by man on mysterious beings? After having created them, he has not ceased to adorn, to fear, and to love them. Take away these borrowed qualities and what will be left? Let us do the same with respect to the things that we covet. What will remain to fame, to dignities, to all the baubles which we so fervently desire? Nothing, or almost nothing.
XIII. In a time of distress, astronomers them-selves turn toward heaven, to seek there the divine power which is capable of lessening their sufferings and of sharing their troubles here below. Yet they are the first to know that they have as much chance of finding it beside or below, as above them. Power of words! Thine essence is eternal. In vain do we break so many idols, thine will live as long as mankind.
XIV. From our early youth, a benevolent fairy remains at our side, offering to accompany us through the vicissitudes of life, and shields us with her ever-watchful protection. This is no fairy of legends. She exists and develops in her young and glowing beauty. Invisible, she allows us a glimpse of her sympathetic virtues and of her infinite charms. She embodies all the aspirations of our lives. In her expressive personality are hid-den all the sources of our desires, our happiness or our woe. Riches, fame, distinctions, health, she holds and offers to all who come to her and will receive her guidance.
Divine fairy that does not cease to accompany mankind from its humblest origins, indefatigable in thy generosity, inexhaustible in thy goodness, imposing in thine omnipotence, thy name is WILL.
Why do we write of the gods, asks the Paytone+One, except to win love for the divine nature within them, and to show that this divine nature lives also, and will live eternally, in the heart of the human race? Why glorify the will, except to impress vividly its untiring and inexhaustible action? It is the beloved sovereign who, unlike other monarchs, bows to the desires of all who love, revere, and are prepared to follow. It promises much and performs still more. Devote yourself to its cult sincerely and faithfully,. and it will place under your rule the various causes on which your happiness depends.
A time will come when all the purposes of pedagogy will tend toward this dominant goal: the liberation and development of the will, and this will be the prelude of the reign of Happiness.
XV. Let us suppose that some day we are told : A god is within you, a god who asks nothing better than to place himself at your service. He is awaiting your summons with touching patience.
Nothing discourages him. His complaisance is equalled only by his discretion. Vainly, for years, you have ignored him. Unheeded, concealed in a corner of your consciousness, he waits your pleasure. But as soon as you turn to him, he will come, calm and serene, at your summons. His worship is neither sanguinary nor difficult. All that you do for him inevitably profits only yourself. In his boundless generosity he keeps nothing for himself, and will reward you fivefold for whatever you wish to do in his favour.
Why, when in quest of a certain support and powerful protectors, do we forget the ideal and divine friend who offers us everything and asks nothing?
XVI. In all ages, chosen minds have bowed before. the benefits of the will. Kant goes so far as to say that the will has relations with the noumena. The will, he teaches us, possesses even a curative property Man can do much by the sole energy of his will. Through its instrumentality he can even modify his physical condition, save him-self from hypochondria, and conquer spasmodic conditions. According to Kant, the will is the first condition of health.
With the powers of suggestion triumphing, the power of the will triumphs. Modern science has instituted almost a worship of suggestion. Utilised as a beneficent force, subordinated to the reasoning and rational will, suggestion might radically transform and embellish our life.
The ancients knew the power of suggestion, but to modern times belongs the distinction of having procured for us a lever by which to utilise it at our pleasure.
Faith removes mountains, says a proverb as old as the world. The science of hypnotism and of suggestion only serves as an illustration. Carpenter quotes the case of a man who, though very weak in muscles, one day raised a heavy weight because he believed it trivial. Faith in miracles i produce miracles. The old sally of Pomponatius is still true: " You can calmly put in the place of the bones of a saint those of any other skeleton. The cure would follow if the patient were ignorant of the change." And, in fact, the water of the Loire or of the Seine is often as beneficial in its effects as that of Lourdes, provided that the invalid is not aware of its origin.
Under the influence of concentrated attention, redness or pallor appear on the face, swellings of the limbs and hemorrhages take place, the heart beats more quickly or more slowly, pains are felt in the places indicated.
Goethe had already said: "Man can command nature to eliminate from his body all the foreign elements which cause him suffering and disease."
O sweet and intoxicating power of words! The remembrance of the heavenly joy which the martyrs of every age have felt is sufficient to enable us to understand that the human race will always bow beneath the yoke of the word that has become faith. Read in Rufinus or Lucian the tortures inflicted in Lyons in the year 177 upon numberless saints. They believed that a divine stream flowed from the side of Jesus to reanimate and refresh them. And they felt revived and refreshed. The fragile Lyonnese maid-servant, Blandine, exasperated the gangs of executioners by constantly asking for more tortures, more suffering. They exhausted all the known torments. Her thirst for martyrdom still besought more. Suspended from a post, her body was exposed for several days to the bites of wild beasts. Placed in a red-hot chair, her flesh was burned in many places. Then, enclosed in a net, she was flung to a bull. The animal, at the sight of this burned and burning body, hurled it furiously into the air, and let it fall back again to the ground. Yet the gentle Blandine's face did not cease to express the ineffable joy of the martyr. Suffering became to her the celestial joy of salvation.
Deacon Sanctus of Vienna beheld with rapture his body converted into a bleeding, deformed mass. His most sensitive parts were burned with copper heated to a white heat. Yet Sanctus did not cease to repeat, in a peaceful voice, the divine formula.
They believed that they were at the festival of their glory, and all were glorious.
XVII. What radiant horizons are opened to us by this material action of the mind upon the body. Are not our whole lives, all our acts, our happiness, and our troubles, really the results of an environing suggestion? What is pedagogy, except such an action exerted upon childhood? We live under the empire of political, religious, and social institutions, under the influence of our neighbours and our friends, under that of our passions and our feelings.
Psychotherapy, the new medical method, even teaches us that certain diseases vanish, as if by enchantment, in consequence of suggestions continually repeated. Let us modify them, let us lessen our susceptibility to those that poison our lives, and render ourselves more sensitive in respect to beneficial suggestions. In this way we shall change even our mode of living and of feeling. The transformation of the feelings affecting our souls might render the hypochondriac the most sociable of men.
Alchemists dream of the transmutation of metals. With tireless zeal, they sought for means of changing iron and copper into gold, or of drawing from gold the elixir of long life. How much more important seems the "transmutation" of our feelings and our sensations! After all, this is possible. By devoting himself to it, man will arrive at controlling external incidents. They will become to him precisely what his soul desires that they should be. The important thing in the events that befall us is their influence upon our minds. By transforming facts at the dictates of our soul, by allowing them to act only within the jurisdiction of our "ego," we shall dominate life.
This change is not always easy. Nothing is more true than this statement. If it were other wise, pedagogy would become the most exact of all the sciences, and the Science of Happiness would be full of infallible dogmas. We should make happy people, as we make officers of the academy. But Happiness, offering itself without effort, would lose its charms.
To operate in an efficient manner, suggestion requires a method, a discipline of the mind. The time is not far off when it will be understood that, since its first steps commence with pedagogy, it is the part of the latter to mark out the first path. Watching over the happiness of those entrusted to its care, it will endeavour to impress the young souls with essential suggestions concerning the value of wealth, of ambition, of fame, or of happiness itself.
The formation of the moral personality, we are told, is the purpose of pedagogy. The formation of the happy personality will doubtless be the aim of the pedagogy of the future.
Let us add, for the consolation of the moralists, that the Science of Happiness will be essentially moral.