Do Science and Philosophy Lead To Unhappiness?

Girl reading a book featuring the title "The Children's Hour" and a photograph of a Hippopotamus in Thebarton Primary School, South Australia (1945)
In the waiting room at the doctor’s office this morning I was reading Bertrand Russell’s 1930 classic, The Conquest of Happiness, a book I first read almost 50 years ago. (I’m still old school, I take a book to the doctor’s since I don’t have a smart phone!)

At the beginning of chapter 2 I came across the following,

It is common in our day, as it has been in many other periods of the world’s history, to suppose that those among us who are wise have seen through all the enthusiasms of earlier times and have become aware that there is nothing left to live for. The men who hold this view are generally unhappy, but they are proud of their unhappiness, which they attribute to the nature of the universe and consider to be the only rational attitude of the enlightened man…. I do not myself think there is any superior rationality in being unhappy.  The wise man will be as happy as circumstances permit, and if he finds the contemplation of the universe painful beyond a point, he will contemplate something else instead…. I am persuaded that those who quite sincerely attribute their sorrows to their view of the universe are putting the cart before the horse: the truth is that they are unhappy for some reason of which they are not aware, and this unhappiness leads them to dwell upon the less agreeable characteristics of the world in which they live.

The quote struck me as uncommonly wise. How easy it is for someone passionate about life’s meaning to think that happy people must be simpletons and that a sober view of reality entail absurdism or nihilism. It does not. Rather it leads to skepticism and the key in my view is not to accept that life is meaningless but to learn to live not being sure if it all makes sense or not. In the meantime we can try to find the happiness and fulfillment that life offers.

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5 thoughts on “Do Science and Philosophy Lead To Unhappiness?

  1. I don’t think so. Yet, directly or indirectly, it does. Even when it accounts for better job opportunity(ies), This means disparity and/or competition in households and among friendship groups. OK, yeah, this is sociological jargon.
    But, if,as the ‘Stones wrote, you can’t always get what you want; conversely, you don’t always want what you get. There have been numerous pieces, fact and fiction, written on this theme.Examples? Poor No More; The Fountainhead; Uhuru, Something of Value. Oh, all right, the factual ones are harder to get to. Shortly speaking, getting what we want is hollow, without intention and, more importantly, purpose.
    When we wind up with what we don’t want, we must blame only ourselves for being so gullible. Or is gullibility a fallacy? hmmmmmmm.

  2. ” I am persuaded that those who quite sincerely attribute their sorrows to their view of the universe are putting the cart before the horse: the truth is that they are unhappy for some reason of which they are not aware, and this unhappiness leads them to dwell upon the less agreeable characteristics of the world in which they live.”

    This is a breath of fresh air, a ray of light in a dark room, Thank you Dr. John. Perhaps I spend too much time alone, of late, as I contemplate the World, I’ve been feeling morose, surely that is an indication of having too much concern for things I can do nothing about, so, time to change my attitude and spend more time with people who are relatively happy! Happiness is infectious.

  3. “It is true happiness to contemplate the universe with a quiet mind ” Lucretius

    Thanks, John I often contemplate this fact

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