Saturday, September 18, 2010
What are the causes of unhappiness, described by Russell, and what are his suggestions to overcome them?
According to Russell, our unhappiness is based on certain factors. To start with tension and tumult are the main causes of unhappiness. The present age of human history is the age of turmoil. Life has become complex and men and women are from head to foot busy in their daily work. Even, they cannot spare weekend for some relax and recreation. Men and women are so absorbed in their days and night that they have become stranger to their children and other relations. A constant pursuit of fortune and luxuries of life, in this modern world has incurred worries, tensions and restlessness for the people. Psychological anxiety and mental agonies are the “gifts” of this hectic life.
Russell maintains that man has limited sources and he must realize his limitations. He cannot acquire authentic knowledge, nor he can know the secrets of life. If man acknowledges the above-mentioned weakness and tries to overcome them, he can be able the embrace the happiness, from which he is aloof yet.
Apart from this general outlook, Russell further investigates the causes of unhappiness. For this purpose he douses deep into Freudian psychology. The growing self-absorption is first psychological cause of unhappiness. It develops unnecessary adherence to self, which takes the shape of narcissism, megalomania and self-importance. This self-worship makes the ground for sins.
Narcissism implies too much absorption in self-love and to deliberately ignore reality. Megalomania is the fallacy of self-importance. When these passions arise in a person, he tends to be an arbiter or dictator.
Sense of sin means to be conscious of one’s guilt, and to deliberately break the moral taboos. There are other causes of unhappiness, such as frustration in the childhood, the effects of which appear in maturity, and, under the influence of this frustration, the sufferer isolates himself from society.
The above-mentioned causes are psychological counts on which life becomes a painful experience, if they are not tackled sensibly.
Russell also discusses some factors from our daily life, which become the cause of unhappiness, if not sensed and controlled properly. They are referred as Byronic attitude, competition, fatigue, envy, persecution mania and fear of public opinion.
Russell believes that there are people who take the concept happiness for myth. Man cannot get at real happiness despite having got plenty of fortune and honor. He refers to the American author Joseph Wood Krutch who in his book “Modern Temper” criticizes those who believe in unhappiness. He writes that ‘Ours is the lost cause and we have no place in the natural universe.’ He writes further that man has seen the world enough and there is nothing new to be seen. But Russell rejects his thoughts because according to him (Russell) life is full of novelties and curiosities. The assorted scientific inventions, the astonishing modern devices have left everyone with curiosity. Russell sees the Kruth’s pessimism in the perspective of some unfortunate happenings in his childhood, which appeared later on, in the form of his disgust towards life.
Again Russell holds that competition is another reason of unhappiness. Competition is a natural human instinct, which teaches us to excel over others. This sense of competition develops into prejudice and enmity, which is harmful to humanity. Russell is of the view that this sense of competition must be replaced by sense of co-operation. Competition is often unhealthy and leads to antagonism. This competition, if inevitable, must go in a constructive way.
In this connection Russell further says competition is a bane and it may spoil one’s personal and family life. It can segregate us from our children and spouse. According to Russell, the real cause of this hectic competition is lust for the money. The crazy pursuit of money ensued from competition often leaves the man with mental upset. To attain a mental tranquility, he uses drugs and drink. So the writer condemns it severely and advises to be away from this harmful competition.
Now he takes into consideration two other points, boredom and excitement as the causes of unhappiness. These two are not major aspects but they must not be overlooked. Boredom is unpleasant and sometimes intolerable, but it has some healthy features too. We feel bored when we are at leisure. According to Russell boredom is natural phenomenon. It is makes alive our excitement for works. The more we feel bored, the more we become excited for work. It is interesting to note that the machine age has considerably decreased our boredom. It has made life busy and interesting. But, an equivalent balance is also necessary between boredom and excitement.
Fatigue is a characteristic of human body. It is natural phenomenon because our body gets tired after over work and demands rest. The bodily fatigue ensues from hard work but what Russell refers to is fatigue we get from competition and fear of loss. In order to get rid of nerve fatigue, we must have mental discipline and tranquility. Those who are obsessed with worries even on their bed cannot achieve any fruit from life. The mental fatigue, due to over work, exhausts the energies and debilitates a person mentally and physically. The effect of worries goes deep into man’s unconscious, but, according to Russell, we can avoid it if we analyze the nature of worries and try to sort out them. If we take our misfortune as a part of our life and compare it with the vast scheme of the universe, then we can change our viewpoint about life.
Another important cause of unhappiness is envy. Without any discrimination of gender or age, it equally exists in men, women, children and adults. According to Russell, envy is the basic human emotion, which sours life. Envy turns the life bitter and full of disillusionments if not controlled properly. Women are generally suffering more in envy than men. Envy makes the person rigid and proof against advice. It is hard to convince an envious person to change his mind. The roots of envy are very deep in our social life to produce instability in it. Russell condemns it severely regarding envy as the enemy of harmony and peace in society. It generates hatred and grudge in society parting man from man. Envy is very ugly aspect of human nature because envious people always burn in the fire of grudge and bitterness. They not only make their life hell but also make efforts to poison other’s life. But on the other hand, the poison of envy can become toast of life if used positively. Envy can produce a passion to succeed and advance in the race of life but without any antipathy or hatred towards others. Envy is a passion, constructive as well as destructive but it depends upon how it is taken.
Some people are always suffering from a certain kind of inferiority complex. They always feel that society is opposed to them and every individual of society is poised to harm them. This is actually a psychological set back of their mind, which becomes incurable if not tackled proper and on time. The sufferer of this mania always feels obsessed with thought of some injury, which does not exist at all. Russell says that such a person sometimes is really inflicted by that injury and his obsession is materialized. This psychological ill may be controlled in he beginning, but, if it goes beyond certain limits, it becomes a psychiatric problem. Persecution mania, according to Russell, lies ingrained in human nature. It is required to recognize and define its limits to eliminate it. We should convince ourselves that we have no extra-ordinary qualities, which distinguish us from others. We should discard the imagination that people are after us and wish to persecute us.
The last of all, another cause of public unhappiness is the fear of public opinion. This kind of fear is engendered by unfamiliar environment and lack of confidence in personal opinion. Russell suggests that the youngsters, who find their environment not in synch with their disposition, should join a certain profession to interact different set of people. It will bring them a better companionship and friends. Or, they should join an interesting hobby to have some diversion and change of environment.
In this connection Russell further emphasizes that the young should not suppress their own opinions in the fear of being scoffed by the elders. He maintains that the freedom of public opinion is necessary but it should be given within limits. There must not be any check or repression on opinions. Any kind of repression on opinion kills the talent and mars the fertility of the young.
To sum up: Russell indicates many social and biological factors, which are the cause of unhappiness. The above-described causes have their useful aspects too, if we control them and wrench out betterments from them. It depends upon our effort to get better results. Nonetheless, we are to be agreed with all the causes of unhappiness described by Russell in his book “The Conquest of Happiness.”
He has dived deep into human nature to study and analyze all its aspects, which are chiefly responsible for man unhappiness. His approach to overpower these causes and make the dream of human happiness come true is based on his keen observation of humanity and human life, and deep study of human psychology and rational attitude.