I am continuing to enjoy Bertrand Russell’s book The Conquest of Happiness. The first source of happiness he discusses is called zest. He notes that many people do not have the proper attitude towards food. The proper attitude a person should have is to begin with a sound appetite, be glad of their food, eat until they have had enough, and then stop. He also says that what hunger is in relation to food, zest is in relation to life. I agree that some of the keys to enjoying life and being happy are to have a desire and appetite to enjoy life, and to be grateful and glad for what you have, what you have experienced. But for me, the term “passion” is more appropriate than “zest.”
Bertrand Russell had further observations on the sort of person who travels through many countries, but prefers to stay in hotels like those at home, eats exactly the same food they would eat at home (maybe even the same fast food chain?), talks about the same topics they would talk about at home. Then this person returns home with only relief to end the boredom and expense. Another type of person in contrast, makes it a point to see what is characteristic of the new location, make the acquaintance of the typical people of that location, observe what is of historical or social interest there, eat the food of the country, and learn the local manners and language. When this second type of person returns home, they have a new stock of pleasant thoughts and memories. The first person has an attitude that leads to boredom and unhappiness, while the second person has a zest or passion for life, which is an advantage in finding happiness in life.
The second source of happiness is affection. According to the book His Needs, Her Needs, the top need of a wife is affection. (See my resources for more information about this book.) Mr. Russell observes that affection can be received or it can be given to another. I have shared the French proverb: In love there is always one who kisses and one who gives the cheek, and I discussed givers and takers. The affection we give can be further divided into two types, one of which is an expression of passion for life, while the other is an expression of fear.
The illustration given is this: If you are sailing in a ship on a fine day along a beautiful coast, you admire the coast and get pleasure from it. This would illustrate giving out of a passion for life. The pleasure you get comes from looking outwards and has nothing to do with any desperate need of your own. But when you are shipwrecked and swimming towards the coast, you have a different kind of love for the coast: it represents security and safety and its beauty or ugliness is of no importance. While all real affection is made up of a combination of both these types, an over-abundance of affection based on insecurity and fear results in too much self-centeredness and selfishness.
I want zest and passion in my life, and to be a giver of much affection, affection based more on my confidence and security than my fears. So I reflect on my marriage – do I allow it to become shipwrecked, or do I maintain vigilance for the dangerous reefs and try to steer clear of them? For us to be able to give each other the affection we need, we each have to feel safe and secure in the relationship. Only then can we rest in, depend on, and openly share with each other. I’ve discussed many of the ingredients that provide the safety and security to accomplish this – honesty, the right priorities, gratitude and encouragement to name a few. But to be successful, none of it is a one time or infrequent requirement. If only I could reflect daily on these characteristics of Good Affection, all my relationships would be better – what about yours?
By the way, appearances are deceiving. The photo above is of a navigable boat built to look like one in distress and sinking. Here is another image of the same boat.