Over the years, when I find a particularly well written ‘bit in a book’ I’m reading I’ve taken to writing it down in my notebook. I’ve been leafing through these old scribbles recently and think it's nice to occasionally share my favourite discoveries with you here.
This latest ‘bit’ comes from another old book that was written in the 1930s (that must have belonged to my great-grandpa) by the pipe toking British philosopher Bertrand Russell.
The book is called ‘The Conquest of Happiness’ and, written long before all the abundant self-help books of today, was this wise and rather charming man's musings on what makes a happy life. Or, to be more precise, the things that cause unhappiness - and how to avoid them.
Now, you might think that written almost 100 years ago it would hardly be relevant anymore, but I found it very interesting to note that humans haven't really changed all that much and there was still a surprising number of gems to be found hidden between the pages.
This ‘bit’ comes from a section of the book called ‘Fear of Public Opinion’. What Bertrand Russell basically says here, in his somewhat wonderfully revolutionary way, is that you should just “be yourself”. Here’s why:
Chapter IX - Fear of Public Opinion
“I think that in general, apart from expert opinion, there is too much respect paid to the opinions of others, both in great matters and in small ones. One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as it is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and this is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways.
Take, for example, the matter of expenditure. Very many people spend money in ways quite different to those that their natural tastes would enjoin, merely because they feel that the respect of their neighbours depends upon their possession of a good car and their ability to give good dinners. As a matter of fact, any man who can obviously afford a car but genuinely prefers to travel or a good library will in the end be much more respected than if he behaved exactly like everybody else.
There is, of course, no point in deliberately flouting public opinion; this is still to be under its domination, though in a topsy-turvy way. But to be genuinely indifferent to it is both a strength and a source of happiness. And a society composed of men and women who do not bow too much to the conventions is a far more interesting society than one in which all behave alike. Where each person's character is developed individually, differences of type are preserved, and it is worthwhile to meet new people, because they are not mere replicas of those whom one has met already.
This has been one of the advantages of aristocracy, since where status depended upon birth behaviour was allowed to be erratic. In the modern world we are losing this source of social freedom, and therefore a more deliberate realisation of the dangers of uniformity has become desirable.
I do not mean that people should be intentionally eccentric, which is just as uninteresting as being conventional. I mean only that people should be natural, and should follow their spontaneous tastes in so far as they are not definitely anti-social.”