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This, under favorable circumstances, is between forty-five and fifty years of age. After that, physical decadence sets in, and only by exceptional strength or by increased effort can its fatal progress be for a while stayed. From inquiry of many persons, I am persuaded that the rule of the increase of enjoyment up to this turning-point is on the average correct. That old age is synonymous with wisdom is a comical deception which the graybeards have palmed off on the world, because by laws and customs they hold most of the property, and want most of the power as well.
In fact, diminution of the physical powers means decay all round. The experience of youth serves but to lead old age astray; and this is seen nowhere so plainly as when an old man pretends a zest for the pleasures of the young. Every age has pleasures sufficient, which are appropriate to it, and these alone should be sought for.
To those who know and respect these laws of nature, old age is very tolerable. It brings many compensations for its inevitable losses; and though not likely to be so happy as the best of middle life, it should be and often is superior in this respect to youth. Probably it would generally be so were it more willing to learn the lessons appropriate Pg 36 to it.
The purpose of this chapter is not to enter into practical details of an education for happiness—that is the mission of the rest of the book,—but to establish certain general theoretical principles on which such an education must be carried out in order to be successful.
And first, I must repeat what I have already intimated, that any permanent and even moderate stock of happiness does not fall into the open mouth, like the roasted quails in the fairy story, but can be obtained only by methodical pursuit and constant watchfulness. Eternal vigilance is said to be the price of liberty; and liberty is only one of the necessary elements of happiness.
Meditation, forethought, and the formation of a clearly defined Plan of Life are all required, and even then success is far from certain. At the outset, I must attack as unsound a maxim which has been assiduously disseminated by the school of economists of which Herbert Spencer is the leader. The Pg 37 pursuit of happiness would be hopelessly circumscribed, as but few in the world can attain maximum efficiency in anything. Fortunately, it is historically false. Those men who have won fame by their enormous personal capacity have certainly not been the happiest of their kind.
Such an education should not be concentrated on one faculty of the mind nor on one subject of study, but should extend in all directions, be broad and many-sided. It is an education within the reach of every one, which requires no schoolmaster but oneself; and yet confers a degree on its graduates more valuable than any university can bestow. Its leading theoretical principles may be grouped under five propositions: —.
The multiplication of the sources of pleasure and the diminution of those of pain.
The Good Life: Ethics and the Pursuit of Happiness
Pg 38 IV. The establishment of a proper relation between desires and pleasures. These principles are not speculative or doctrinal, but are based on the physiology of the nervous system and the constitution of the human mind. Let us begin with the first, for it is the basis of the whole Art of Pleasure. Differently expressed, it means that the sum of our enjoyment must be enlarged by increasing our sources of enjoyment. In other words, we must set to work to acquire tastes in addition to those which we already have by nature or previous education. The most useful instruction is that which teaches us to profit by all our chances.
People are never so unhappy as they think they are, because at the moment they forget how many sources of pleasure remain for them. Review the field. How many have seriously calculated the number of different gratifications each of these senses is capable of yielding? Beyond these lie the inviting fields of the Agreeable Emotions, whose prolific soil needs but to be stirred to teem with flower and fruit; and still beyond, but in easy reach, the uplands of Reason and Thought rise into the purer air, and offer perspectives of entrancing beauty.
All these resources are, to some extent, open to every one. But most sit like a peasant at the table of a prince, Pg 39 refusing to taste the choice viands which are before him, because he cares only for the beans and hodge-podge of his daily fare. Along with the multiplication of the sources of enjoyment must go the studied avoidance of profitless pain. I say profitless pain, because there is pain which is profitable, and to avoid that would be to miss the best of life, as I shall try to show on a later page,—a distinction too often forgotten by those political economists who are preparing the race for the era of universal happiness.
All pain is profitless which is incurred by a deliberate violation of natural law, such as needless neglect of health or disregard of social custom.
The part of wisdom is to avoid such suffering. Here lies the incalculable value of knowledge in this pursuit.
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I do not mean extensive learning or erudition, but knowledge of ourselves, of our immediate natural surroundings, and of our own sphere of probable activity. The chief value of Knowledge, says Epictetus, is that it destroys Fear. We do not dread the known, but the unknown. Its worth does not stop there. It enables us to escape disasters, to lessen pain, to mitigate suffering in ourselves and others, and to secure many joys. To him it was more gratifying than to have filled his stomach with the acid pippins. We should want immensely, but want wisely. To supply such wants there is no need of the revenue of a kingdom or the lore of a pedagogue.
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Not one man in a thousand exhausts the means of wise enjoyment which are daily within the reach of his hand. Why go far a-field to seek the treasure buried neath his own hearth-stone? What he needs is to study himself and his environment, so as to protect himself from the dangers to which he is exposed, and to draw from such circumstances as he is placed in, and from such faculties as he is possessed of, the maximum of gratification which they can render him. If all persons acted consistently on this principle, the general sum of human happiness would be indefinitely increased.
The kind of knowledge which is most serviceable to this Pg 41 end is by no means difficult to acquire. It falls within the range of a common school education, and ought to be made a part of it, with the definite aim of promoting personal happiness. Professor Alexander Bain, who belongs to the Scotch common-sense school of philosophers, and who treats all questions in a business-like manner, has drawn up a scheme of such an education, which any one can carry out for himself. It is so excellent that I present its main features, with amplifications of my own.
This means an acquaintance with the outlines of anatomy and physiology, the rules of personal and general hygiene, some understanding of the most prevalent diseases in the locality in which we live and those to which we are individually most liable, and the simplest means for their prevention and treatment; what best to do in cases of sudden accidents and emergencies; and last, though not least, the precepts for training, strengthening, and beautifying the body and the features.
The Elements of the principal Physical and Chemical Sciences.
DANIEL G. BRINTON, A.M., M.D., LL.D.
Even a rudimentary knowledge of the sciences of chemistry, geology, geography, astronomy, of mechanics, steam, electricity, etc. This is at once a delightful pastime and an indispensable art for success in many lines of business. It means an acquaintance with the motives which actuate men in their decisions, the personal traits which make up their characters, their passions and their ambitions, their weaknesses and their prejudices. To some degree, all can attain it by observation of those around them, and by the perusal of works which explain the constitution of the mind and the dominant motives of human action.
Worry about business affairs is probably the commonest cause of unhappiness. A great deal of it is inevitable; but a large share of it would be prevented were both sexes taught early in life the general rules and customs of business, and those principles of financial management, investment, prudence, and economy, which are nearly as fixed in their operation as those of the motions of the stars.
There are many popular handbooks on this subject, and one such ought to be in every household. Pg 43 e. A Study of the Value of Evidence. A remarkable writer, De Senancour, who under the name of Obermann composed some strange books early in this century, maintained that if men would tell the truth and could predict the weather, nearly all the sufferings which afflict humanity would disappear. There is a great deal in his opinion. At present, all men have a rooted aversion to truth, and neither wish to tell it nor to hear it beyond a strictly limited amount.
But as a knowledge of facts is essential to right action, the estimation of evidence and the calculation of probabilities are necessary to a prosperous life. There are well-known principles by which the value of testimony is balanced and the weight of evidence decided. They are in daily application in our courts, and can be applied at least as successfully to affairs outside.
Such are the outlines of an education directed toward increasing the sources of enjoyment and diminishing the causes of suffering; and what remains to be said is little more than an extension of the principles thus laid down.
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