Feb 23, 2015

Monday Morning Quotes (Bertrand Russell, 2/23/15)

"A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is more of the things that ought to be taught to the young."


"The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile."

Bertrand Russell

Both of these quotes are taken from Russell's book for the layman "the Conquest of Happiness" where he spends some of his time explaining to the average man how he can lead a more fulfilling and happy life. He divides the book into two section; one, how to avoid unhappiness; and the other, how to achieve happiness. Both of these quotes are taken from the later section. It seems almost trivial to point out that one can have more happiness by allowing happiness to come from more places, but perhaps it needs to be said. Russell recommends that we also have hobbies that lie outside the mainstream of our lives. As an example he mention a novelist friend of his that is ecstatic over baseball. This allows us to be happy even when our lives may not be going too well. Even if the novelist's latest novel bombs and his wife leaves him, he'll still be able to look forward to the next baseball match.

I do find it important when he mentions inculcating an ability to endure boredom in children. It seems like our education system wants to do the other. I remember numerous times when us school children were required to 'sit quietly' and wait for the teacher to do something that we were unaware of. In my physical education class when I was 13 we students regularly had to wait an extra 10 to 15 minutes after the bell sounded to start of class as our teacher talked in his office with another teacher. About what we were given no clue. Instead of creating games among ourselves or enjoying a book alone, we just sat there bored and angry.

I also think that a strong ability to overcome boredom goes a long way to saving money. Instead of curing boredom by shopping or buying the latest video game, if we were to develop an interest in the cheaper things in life we could get by a lot easier. I'm here thinking of the $2 I spent on a thousand page book of classic poetry last week that I spent an hour reading the first 20 pages of. At that rate, even a welfare recipient could be content (not to mention free services like the public library). The ability to enjoy yourself alone with an inexpensive activity can go a long way to a more enjoyable and less stressful existence. The second is to be able to entertain yourself as a group; I have little to say on the manner as I've yet to become able to enjoy myself socially without having consumed a costly amount of intoxicants of a various sort, some of which may have worse consequences than simply draining my wallet if publicly conspicuous.

Russell's advice, as I think he makes clear, work only for the moderate man. A person suffering a serious mental illness, although not harmed by following his advice, should seek help with a medical professional. I do think this is one of the faults of the overall book. I'm unaware of the prevalence or recognition of depression when Russell's book was published so perhaps it was imperceptible to the man, but I would like to see if there are any studies done (or capable of being done) between the prevalence of depression and the skills Russell wants us to teach our young. Would these skills have any effect on lessening depression? From personal experience of mental illness, I think they could. We could also add a few lessons to Russell's imagined curriculum that deal explicitly with handling mental illness. Such as when to seek help and a plea to encourage discussion. These lessons could also help dispel any bad connotations still associated with mental illness.

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