Book Review

The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russel

A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live

Bertrand Russel

Four out of five is the score I give to The Conquest of Happiness book. First published in 1930 and written by Bertrand Russell –a world wide famous British philosopher–, where he explores the concept of happiness, beginning with the western idea of it.  I truly enjoyed myself reading this essay. 

Contrary to the self-help books, this essay does not give any magical, specific instructions or foundations on how to find happiness. Neither gives a To Do List in life to reach the holy grail for “eternal happiness”. As a philosopher, Bertrand Russel approaches happiness combining different social sciences: History, Anthropology, Sociology, and of course, Philosophy. 

To understand what happiness is, Bertrand talks about human misery. In the first chapter, What makes people unhappy? tackling the causes of personal and social discontent. He writes about negative and positive human emotions: boredom, excitement, envy, fatigue, fear and more. Addressing the western construct of happiness, he slowly transitions  to its easter approach.

While describing a happy life, he does not see happiness as the goal in life per se, instead he understands happiness as a gathering of satisfactory moments in life, resulting from living an ethical life. For Russel, values are the core factor  in human beings. According to him, if we really want to achieve happiness we need to stop ambitioning more than we need and lead a tranquil ethical life. 

The daily and strong practice of moral behavior is the right way to live. And no, you don’t need to smoke weed or try Ayahuasca to find for yourself in a higher realm and find the meaning of your life. –You need to know yourself by continuous and methodical observation, that way you will be able to break negative behaviors. 

As Bertrand Russell asks, can happiness be really conquered? It all depends… This essay, full of short knowledge: stories, history, reflections, sociological observations, great ideas and arguments, will make you rethink your own goals and concepts about the western idea of happiness.

Reading this book will question your beliefs and help you to look for satisfaction in life. You need to do what’s right, –always oriented towards values– and stop striving for perfection and fulfillment of all your desires, which is practice is hard to do. As Russel puts it, happiness is a long term construction. Personally, this book helped me to stop overthinking life, avoid revolving over the same negative or positive thoughts or memories, or stop worrying and daydreaming about things that may never come to happen. 

If you know more about how Philosophy approaches happiness and satisfaction, you can listen to our podcast episode “Entre la Felicidad y Satisfacción” with Ernesto Gallardo León. This podcast was recorded in Spanish,  

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