Bertrand Russell: “How To Grow Old”

Bertrand Russell 1957.jpg

Perhaps no one has written more eloquently about growing old than the great philosopher Bertrand Russell in his essay “How To Grow Old.”

The best way to overcome it [the fear of death]—so at least it seems to me—is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.

This is one of the most beautiful reflections on death I have found in all of world literature.

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12 thoughts on “Bertrand Russell: “How To Grow Old”

  1. Not only is this a beautiful reflection on death, but one about life as well. The imagery evoked by the way that Russell describes an individual human existence as “like a river” is profound. There is no need for any invented religious or metaphysical jargon. Wonderful post!

  2. Thanks Jim. I have taken much comfort from Russell’s inisghts on this and have quoted them many times thru the years.

  3. Russell is an enlightened soul at peace with himself and the world which can be said of only a handful persons and only such a profound soul can have the wisdom reflected so lyrically in the passage

  4. “I wish to propose…..a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatsoever for supposing it true.”


  5. I’m now in my mid-20s. I remember my days in college, this website was my source of relief, when I was anxious, when I needed answers; reading here was my therapy. I have overcome my parents’ religion, though I had a breakdown. This time, a pandemic makes me hopeless and unemployment makes it worse. I am here again. Be my guide, my source of wisdom. Thank you all the way from the PH. #JunkTerrorBill #OustDuterte

  6. I so appreciate your kind words, I hope they help. I wish you the very best. JGM

  7. You don’t find something like this very often at all. Wish I’d discovered it when I was in my twenties!

  8. I wish that when we share articles on Facebook, the picture of Russell would show up instead of a giant R M

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