The Pink Triangle Trust

Introducing the Humanist Tradition

Leaflet number 7: Make It Happy

Do You Want a Happy Life?

Few people would deliberately choose to be miserable themselves or want other people to lead miserable lives. Any that do, we may say, actually enjoy being miserable! And we are all influenced by the people around us. Would you rather be surrounded by happy people or miserable people?

Each of us can be individually happy and fulfilled to the extent that we do not harm other people. However, we may sometimes feel guilty when, as Jean de la Bruyère (1645-1696) said, “In the presence of certain aspects of misery man feels ashamed to be happy.”

This human sympathy acts as a natural spur to encourage us to help to arrange things so that happiness may spread to everyone. To provide the environment for the pursuit of happiness should be an objective for governments as well as individuals.

How Can We Build ‘Happy Lives’? – Suggestions from the Humanist Tradition

We can apply reason, which nowadays should be taken to mean an approach that is scientific, consistent with experience, and tests theories. But the approach must be made with the kindly intentions of goodwill, if lives are to be happy.

The ‘happy life’ can only be something freely chosen by individuals. It cannot be imposed on people by governments or others who think they know best.

“Happiness is a wine of the rarest vintage, and seems insipid to a vulgar taste.”

AfterthoughtLogan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946)

“Undoubtedly we should desire the happiness of those whom we love, but not as an alternative to our own. In fact the whole antithesis between self and the rest of the world, which is implied in the doctrine of self denial, disappears as soon as we have any genuine interest in persons or things outside ourselves.”

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

“Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way...”

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

“No one can be perfectly free till all are free; no one can be perfectly moral till all are moral; no one can be perfectly happy till all are happy.”

Social StaticsHerbert Spencer (1820-1903)

“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

The Wealth of NationsAdam Smith (1723-1790)

“Every pleasure is prima facie good, and ought to be pursued. Every pain is prima facie evil, and ought to be avoided...

“Every act whereby pleasure is reaped is, all consequences apart, good.

“Every act by which pleasure is reaped, without any result of pain, is pure gain to happiness; every act whose results of pain are less than the results of pleasure, is good, to the extent of the balance in favour of happiness...

“To warrant the assumption that any given act is an evil one, it is incumbent on him who impugns it to show, not only that evil will be the result of it, but that the sum of evil will be greater than the sum of good which it produces...

“The value of pains and pleasures must be estimated by their intensity, duration, certainty, proximity, and extent. Their intensity, duration, proximity, and certainty, respect individuals; their extent the number of persons under their influence. The greater amount of any of these qualities may counterbalance the lesser amount of any other...

“Into these regions, then, of pain and pleasure, it is the business of the moralist to bring all human actions, in order to decide on their character of propriety or impropriety, vice or virtue...”

J. Bentham’s Deontology, or the Science of Morality (1834)

“The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.”

The Commonplace BookJeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

“It is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently, honourably, and justly and impossible to live prudently, honourably, and justly without living pleasantly. And whoever lacks this cannot live pleasantly.”

Principal Doctrine VEpicurus (341-271 BCE)

“Happy the Man, and happy he alone,
He who can call to-day his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have liv’d today.”

Horace (65-8 BCE) – translation by John Dryden (1631-1700)

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Created : Sunday, 1998-03-01 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :