Century-old Wisdom on Happiness

Last month, in a post titled The Happy Life, I wrote about a couple ideas on happiness written in a book published in 1905.

Recently, I received an even older book on the subject. The Duty of Happiness by Sir John Lubbock was published in 1896.

Lubbock book pic
Cover of Lubbock’s Book on Happiness
Photo by M. Fleming

I read the book with interest and discovered three important nuggets of century-old wisdom.

First, there’s a link between happiness and nature.

Nature provides without stint the main requisites of human happiness.

Second—and my wife is also good at reminding me of this—we need to think about how grateful we are. Lubbock writes:

Think how much we have to be thankful for. Few of us appreciate the number of our everyday blessings.

And finally, we have the ultimate choice of how we live.

Few of us, indeed, realize the wonderful privilege of living; the blessings we inherit, the glories and beauties of the Universe, which is our own if we so choose; the extent to which we can make ourselves what we wish to be; or the power we possess of securing peace, of triumphing over pain and sorrow.

Thanks to Sir John Lubbock, when it comes to living fully, I will remember to consider the following: nature, gratitude, and choice.

The Happy Life

This past Christmas, my wife gave me things I desperately needed: socks and self-help books.

One book that intrigued me was The Happy Life by Charles W. Eliot. It was published in 1905! My 5-year-old son said, “Dad, that book smells old.”

happy life book cover
Cover of The Happy Life.
Photo by M. Fleming

I was curious to see if any of Eliot’s principles applied in 2019, more than a century after he wrote the book.

Incidentally, most, if not all, of Eliot’s insights still apply today.

Here’s one of my favourite passages:

In trying to enumerate the positive satisfactions which an average man may reasonably expect to enjoy in this world, I of course take no account of those too common objects of human pursuit,—wealth, power, and fame; first, because they do not as a rule contribute to happiness; and secondly, because they are unattainable by mankind in general.

And another:

The most satisfactory thing in all this earthly life is to be able to serve our fellow beings,—first those who are bound to us by love, then the wider circle of fellow-townsmen, fellow-countrymen, or fellow-men.

Wealth, power, and fame do not bring happiness. Loving others does. True in 1905 and still true today.