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The conquest of happiness according to Bertrand Russell

The conquest of happiness according to Bertrand Russell

February 8, 2023

Born in Wales in 1872, Bertrand Russell was not a happy child . He himself defines his feelings in childhood in the following way: "fed up with the world and overwhelmed by the weight of his sins". With six years he lost his parents and was raised by his paternal grandparents, who instilled in him some very strict moral ideas.

Later, at the age of five, he began to think that if he lived until he was seventy he had only endured one fourteenth of his life, and the long years of boredom that lay ahead seemed unbearable. In adolescence his situation did not improve, and he says he has been on the verge of suicide several times.

With this history we could imagine a depressed adult, with symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, and a good number of neuroleptics on his bedside table. However, in his adult stage this philosopher says have learned to enjoy life .


What did Russell discover to achieve an enthusiastic and happy maturity and enjoy life?

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The conception of happiness according to Bertrand Russell

These are some of the keys that the philosopher stressed to be oriented towards the state of happiness.

Put the focus of attention on the outside

The British philosopher made an interesting discovery . He realized that by worrying less about himself, refraining from reflecting continually on his failures, fears, sins, defects and virtues, he was able to increase his enthusiasm for life.

He discovered that putting its focus on external objects (various branches of knowledge, other people, hobbies, his work ...) was close to his ideal of happiness and his life was much more interesting.


In his writings he tells us that expansive attitudes produce rejoicing, energy and motivation, unlike being locked in oneself inevitably leads to boredom and sadness.

In the words of Russell "who does not do anything to distract the mind and allows his concerns to acquire absolute control over him, he behaves like a fool and loses the ability to face his problems when the time comes to act".

The idea is to increase external interests, make them as varied as possible, in order to have more opportunities for happiness and be less exposed to the whims of fate, because if one fails you can resort to another. If your interests are as wide as possible and your reactions to the things and people that interest you are friendly and not hostile, you are more likely to approach daily happiness.


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How can we foster this expansive attitude?

So, simply by focusing on the daily activities of day to day will we be happy?

Staying focused on the outside will make us more motivated and excited, but it is not the only ingredient of happiness.

According to Russell, a theory that would fit the ideas of contemporary cognitive psychology, to be reasonably happy you have to learn to think in the right way and at the right time . Paraphrasing him, "The wise man only thinks about his problems when it makes sense to do so; the rest of the time he thinks about other things or, if it is at night, he does not think about anything. "

Cultivate an orderly mind it will undoubtedly increase our happiness and efficiency, thinking about everything in its moment will keep our mind clear and awake and will allow us to keep more in the present moment.

And, how does he invite us to think in the right way?

The philosopher encourages us to face the thoughts that frighten us or that incapacitate us. According to him, the best procedure for any type of fear consists of the following:

"Think rationally and calmly on the subject, putting great concentration to familiarize ourselves with him. In the end, that familiarity will dull the fears and our thoughts will move away from him "

It also encourages us to confront our thoughts and discard those that are not adaptive or move away from reality.

Effort and resignation

According to Russell, happiness is a conquest , and not a divine gift, therefore we have to fight it and strive to achieve it.

But nevertheless, before certain unavoidable circumstances of life , the most advisable thing is resignation (which I would call acceptance). Wasting time and emotions in the face of inevitable setbacks is totally useless and threatens peace of mind.

In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, "Have serenity to accept the things you can not change, courage to change what you can, and wisdom to differentiate them."


What Makes People Unhappy? (Conquest of Happiness Ch. 1) (February 2023).


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