« AnteriorContinuar »
happiness, is of two kinds: where there is something to be done towards attaining the object of our hope; and where there is nothing to be done. The first alone is of any value; the latter being apt to corrupt into impatience, having no power but to sit still and wait, which soon grows tiresome.
The doctrine delivered under this head may be readily admitted; but how to provide ourselves with a succession of pleasurable engagements is the difficulty. This requires two things : judgment in the choice of ends adapted to our opportunities ; aud a command of imagination, so as to be able, when the judgment has made choice of an end, to transfer a pleasure to the means, after which, the end may be forgotten as soon as we will.
Hence those pleasures are most valuable, not which are most exquisite in the fruition, but which are most productive of engagement and activity in the pursuit.
A man who is in earnest in his endeavours after the happiness of a future state, has, in this respect, an advantage over all the world ; for he has constantly before his eyes an object of supreme importance, productive of perpetual engagement and activity, and of which the pursuit (which can be said of no pursuit besides) lasts him to his life's end. Yet even he must have many ends besides the far end; but then they will conduct to that, be subordinate, and in some way or other capable of being referred to that, and derive their satisfaction, or an addition of satisfaction, from that.
Engagement is everything: the more significant, however, our engagements are, the better; such as the planning of laws, institutions, manufactures, charities, improvements, public works; and the endeavouring, by our interest, address, solicitations, and activity, to carry them into effect: or, upon a smaller scale, the procuring of a maintenance and fortune for our families by a course of industry and application to our callings, which forms and gives motion to the common occupations of life; training up a child, prosecuting a scheme for his future establishment, making ourselves masters of a language or a science, improving or managing an estate, labouring after a piece of preferment: and lastly, any engagement which is innocent is better than none, as the writing of a book, the building of a house, the laying out of a garden, the digging of a fish-pond-even the raising of a cucumber or a tulip.
Whilst our minds are taken up with the objects or business before us, we are commonly happy, whatever the object or business be; when the mind is absent, and the thoughts are wandering to something else than what is passing in the place in which we are, we are often miserable.
Thirdly, Happiness depends upon the prudent constitution of the habits.
The art in which the secret of human happiness in a great measure consists, is to set the habits in such a manner that every change may be a change for the better. The habits themselves are much the same; for whatever is made habitual becomes smooth, and easy, and nearly indifferent. The return to an old habit is likewise easy, whatever the habit be. Therefore the advantage is with those habits which allow of an indulgence in the deviation from them. The luxurious receive no greater pleasure from their dainties than the peasant does from his bread and cheese : but the peasant, whenever he goes abroad, finds a feast; whereas the epicure must be well entertained, to escape disgust. Those who spend every day at cards, and those who go every day to plough, pass their time much alike; intent upon what they are about, wanting nothing, regretting nothing, they are both for the time in a state of ease: but then, whatever suspends the occupation of the card-player distresses him; whereas to the labourer, every interruption is a refreshment; and this appears in the different effects that Sunday produces upon the two, which proves a day of recreation to the one, but a lamentable burden to the other. The man who has learned to live alone, feels his spirits enlivened whenever he enters into company, and takes his leave without regret; another, who has long been accustomed to a crowd, or continual succession of company, experiences in company no elevation of spirits, nor any greater satisfaction than what the inan of a retired life finds in his chimney-corner. So far their conditions are equal; but let a change of place, fortune, or situation, separate the companion from his circle, his visitors, his club, common-room, or coffee-house, and the difference and advantage in the choice and constitution of the two habits will show itself. Solitude comes to the one, clothed with melancholy; to the other, it brings liberty and quiet. You will see the one fretful and restless, at a loss how to dispose of his time, till the hour come round when he may forget himself in bed; the other easy and satisfied, taking up his book, or his pipe, as soon as he finds himself alone, ready to admit any little amusement that casts up, or to turn his hands and attention to the first business that presents itself; or content, without either, to sit still, and let his train of thought glide indolently through his brain, without much use, perhaps, or pleasure, but without hankering after anything better, and without irritation. A reader who has inured himself to books of science and argumentation, if a novel, a well written pamphlet, an article of news, a narrative of a curious voyage, or a journal of a traveller, fall in his way, sits down to the repast with relish, enjoys his entertainment while it lasts, and can return, when it is over, to his graver reading without distaste. Another, with whom nothing will go down but works of humour and pleasantry, or whose curiosity must be interested by perpetual novelty, will consume a bookseller's window in half a forenoon: during which tinie he is rather in search of diversion than diverted; and as books to his taste are few and short, and rapidly read over, the stock is soon exhausted, when he is left without resource from this principal supply of harmless amusement.
So far as circumstances of fortune conduce to happiness, it is not the income which any man possesses, but the increase of income, that affords the pleasure. Two persons, of whom one begins with a hundred and advances his income to a thousand pounds a year, and the other sets off with a thousand and dwindles down to a hundred, may, in the course of their time, have the receipt and spending of the same sum of money : yet their satisfaction, so far as fortune is concerned in it, will be very different; the series and sum total of their incomes being the same, it makes a wide difference at which end they begin.
Fourthly, Happiness consists in health.
By health I understand, as well freedom from bodily distempers, as that tranquillity, firniness, and alacrity of mind, which we call good spirits, and which may properly enough be included in our notion of health, as depending commonly upon the same causes, and yielding to the same management, as our bodily constitution.
Health, in this sense, is the one thing needful. Therefore no pains, expense, self-denial, or restraint, to which we subject ourselves for the sake of health, is too much. Whether it require us to relinquish lucrative situations, to abstain from favourite indulgences, to control intemperate passions, or undergo tedious regimens; whatever difficulties it lays us under, a man, who pursues his happiness rationally and resolutely, will be content to submit.
When we are in perfect health and spirits, we feel in ourselves a happiness independent of any particular outward gratification whatever, and of which we can give no account. This is an enjoyment which the Deity has annexed to life; and it probably constitutes, in a great measure, the happiness of infants and brutes, especially of the lower and sedentary orders of animals, as of oysters, periwinkles, and the like; for which I have sometimes been at a loss to find out amusement.
The above account of human happiness will justify the two following conclusions, which, although found in most books of morality, have seldom, I think, been supported by any sufficient reasons:
First, That happiness is pretty equally distributed amongst the different orders of civil society.
Secondly, That vice has no advantage over virtue, even with respect to this world's happiness.
EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.
THE SUPPOSED EFFECTS OF CHRISTIANITY. That a religion which, under every form in which it is taught, holds forth the final reward of virtue and punishment of vice, and proposes those distinctions of virtue and vice which the wisest and
most cultivated part of mankind confess to be just, should not be believed, is very possible; but that, so far as it is believed, it should not produce any good, but rather a bad effect upon public happiness, is a proposition which it requires very strong evidence to render credible. Yet many have been found to contend for this paradox, and very confident appeals have been made to history and to observation for the truth of it.
In the conclusions, however, which these writers draw from what they call experience, two sources, I think, of mistake, may be perceived.
One is, that they look for the influence of religion in the wrong place.
The other, that they charge Christianity with many consequences for which it is not responsible.
I. The influence of religion is not to be sought for in the councils of princes, in the debates or resolutions of popular assemblies, in the conduct of governments towards their subjects or of states and sovereigns towards one another, of conquerors at the head of their armies, or of parties intriguing for power at home (topics which alone almost occupy the attention, and fill the pages of history); but must be perceived, if perceived at all, in the silent course of private and domestic life. Nay more; even there its influence may not be very obvious to observation. If it check, in some degree, personal dissoluteness, if it beget a general probity in the transaction of business, if it produce soft and humane manners in the mass of the community, and occasional exertions of laborious or expensive benevolence in a few individuals, it is all the effect which can offer itself to external notice. The kingdom of heaven is within us. That which is the substance of the Religion, its hopes and consolations, its intermixture with the thoughts by day and by night, the devotion of the heart, the control of appetite, the steady direction of the will to the commands of God, is necessarily invisible. Yet upon these depend the virtue and the happiness of millions. This cause renders the representations of history, with respect to religion, defective and fallacious, in a greater degree than they are upon any other subject. Religion operates (147)