“Happiness is a hard taskmaster”

There is no obligation on us to be richer, or busier, or more efficient, or more productive, or more progressive, or in any way worldlier or wealthier, if it does not make us happier. Mankind has as much right to scrap its machinery and live on the land, if it really likes it better, as any man has to sell his old bicycle and go for a walk, if he likes that better.  It is obvious that the walk will be slower; but he has no duty to be fast. And if it can be shown that machinery has come into the world as a curse, there is no reason whatever for our respecting it because it is a marvellous and practical and productive curse. There is no reason why we should not leave all its powers unused, if we have really come to the conclusion that the powers do us harm. The mere fact that we shall be missing a number of interesting things would apply equally to any number of impossible things. Machinery may be a magnificent sight, but not so magnificent as a Great Fire of London; yet we resist that vision and avert our eyes from all that potential splendour.  Machinery may not yet be at its best; and perhaps lions and tigers will never be at their best, will never make their most graceful leaps or show all their natural splendours, until we erect an amphitheatre and give them a few live people to eat. Yet that sight also is one which we forbid ourselves, with whatever austere self-denial. We give up so many glorious possibilities, in our stern and strenuous and self-sacrificing preference for having a tolerable time.  Happiness, in a sense, is a hard taskmaster. It tells us not to get entangled with many things that are much more superficially attractive than machinery.  But, anyhow, it is necessary to clear our minds at the start of any mere vague association or assumption to the effect that we must go by the quickest train or cannot help using the most productive instrument.

The Outline of Sanity (1926).

Published in: on January 6, 2010 at 7:37 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] in the sense of merely changing their life without increasing their liking for it.” (More.) This objection is true as far as it goes, but again I have some doubt as to how popular such a […]


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