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First published in 1930, The Conquest of Happiness is a guide to living a happy life; a self-help classic written for an era when people were more practical and less self-obsessed than today. It addresses a fundamental question – how can we be happy? – not by asking readers to overthink the problem, make endless lists or dig deep into their subconscious, but by suggesting useful and manageable things that can be done to improve their daily lives. Both of and ahead of his time, Russell showed that true happiness could only be achieved through thought and effort. Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness illustrates the timeless nature of Russell’s insights by bringing them to life with modern examples and case studies. Tim Phillips’ superb interpretation of The Conquest of Happiness is an entertaining accompaniment to one of the most important works of popular philosophy ever written. Twenty-first century readers will discover: • How to achieve happiness even if you’re not the richest, cleverest or prettiest; • Why being true to yourself is the first step to happiness; • That viewing life as a competition is a good way to make yourself unhappy; • How to use your unconscious mind to solve your problems; • Why alcohol is not the answer (but guilt-free sex could be). Anyone who feels that true joy is beyond their grasp can free their mind and let this book show just how easy finding happiness can be. Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness is not a substitute for the original. Its purpose is simply to illustrate the timeless nature of Russell’s insights into human nature by bringing them to life in a contemporary context. Tim Phillips’ brilliant interpretation of The Conquest of Happiness is an entertaining and highly practical reworking of one of the most influential popular philosophy books ever written.
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Table of ContentsAll the small things Your happiness is your business Dumbing up Buying happiness The me generation It won’t make any difference The future isn’t what it used to be Tough love Not great men Speak your brains A world of snark Work–life madness Literature’s return on investment How to be bored Bad boredom Are you sitting forward? Explosive disorders Think less and do more In two minds Hotties and notties Never enough Lost in the forest Bollocks to unhappiness Make love, not rules In vino veritas? They aren’t out to get you No excuses What they aren’t telling you It’s not me, it’s you Don’t panic Man or manipulator? You are what you are Leave it all out there On having a hobby The joy of appetite Too much of a good thing Not just a talking head No one likes me Too much, too young Badge kissers Having it all Power and tenderness You never call In defence of call centres Lifelong learning A higher purpose The price of obsession Strategy and tactics When really bad stuff happens Effort, not resignation Resignation, not effort The stream of life
Bertrand Russell spans two eras. The work he left us shows that he was part of the secular industrial age; often the way he describes it sounds as though he’d travelled from the Victorian age in which he was born (into an aristocratic family) and suddenly been shot forward in a Jules Verne time machine. In The Conquest of Happiness he combines a love of skyscrapers and what he called the ‘machine age’ with complaints about his maid-servants and motor-bicycles. He writes with relish about what the world could become, and with excitement about the possibilities for all of us, but also with the desire that we don’t forget the legacy that the great philosophers and novelists have left. Russell, who eventually won the Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote two kinds of book. His philosophy and mathematics were profound, challenging and accessible only to an educated elite. His popular books, of which The Conquest of Happiness is one, were entirely different: easy to read, jokey and open-hearted. When he’s writing about happiness, you get the sense that Russell genuinely cares that we should be happy, and also the sense that he was profoundly, deeply happy himself. This isn’t happiness in the giggly, ephemeral sense, but a sense of pleasure in what we experience and a feeling that we are at peace with the world and not easily disappointed with it. Russell’s liberal world view was ahead of its time – he was an atheist, advocate of tolerance for homosexuals, sometime pacifist, anti-nuclear campaigner and a restrained hedonist. He questions ideas, beliefs and ways of thinking that were (and mostly still are) the conventional wisdom, and has the logician’s genius of coming up with an answer that appears completely straightforward and obvious – until you try to explain it to someone the next day, and have to go back to look it up again. Any fool can make complicated things appear complicated. Russell’s talent is to make the apparently insoluble problems of ‘how can I be happy?’ seem manageable by any of us. He writes, he admits, for the majority of people who have health, food and shelter to satisfy their basic needs and who are sometimes happy, but not often enough: a situation many of us know very well. Russell took his own medicine. His professional life wasn’t short of hard choices or disappointment. The difference is that Russell used his remarkable intellect to find ways to avoid despair in that disappointment. Based on his experience, Russell encourages us to take responsibility and not to rely on others, partly out of necessity: when he wrote this book the idea of an antidepressant pill was as likely as someone walking on the moon and the idea that people could ‘suffer from stress’ was thirty years into the future. For all but a few people, unhappiness wasn’t a medical condition. He treats it as a challenge to be overcome. In Russell’s world, you help yourself, because you’re the best person for the job. There are many ‘self-help’ books available that try to make us happier by encouraging us to obsess about ourselves or manipulate others, or both. Russell does neither. From the man who thought for a living for most of his life – and he was ninety-seven when he died – this isn’t a book about thinking too much, except where the thinking is useful. So even if it doesn’t make you happier, it’s likely to save you a lot of time.