I was pondering some of the conclusions of Bertrand Russell in his book, The Conquest of Happiness. There’s another popular book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, that has some thoughts similar to those of Bertrand Russell. The main thought is: don’t worry needlessly. Many things we stress out worrying about won’t really matter in a couple years, or even a couple days.
The final chapter of The Conquest of Happiness is Efffort and Resignation. Bertrand’s point in this chapter is that effort and resignation have to be balanced. Even in the midst of important pursuits, we cannot worry about potential failure to the point that it is constantly impeding our peace of mind. But in addition to worries of failure, we all have things or people that frustrate, annoy, disappoint, make us impatient, or even angry. I see two important keys to not getting bogged down with these worries and reactions.
(1) Realize that much of what we worry about is not really important.
Russell observes that many people go to pieces when they miss a train or are presented with a poorly prepared meal. He opines that the energy wasted with the fury and rage in such reactions, if it were applied more properly, would be able to make an empire. The minor things that indeed require attention can be successfully addressed without emotion bogging down the process. “Worry and fret and irritation are emotions which serve no purpose.”
(2) Realize that forces beyond our control cannot be fixed by us – we can only choose how to react.
These forces include not only our circumstances, but other people we deal with. Surely we would all agree that some of the truly important things in our lives are our relationships with others – after all, this is a blog about Good Love. When we truly love someone, our love does not depend solely on their behavior or their actions. It doesn’t even depend on their words. This is true even when the behavior, actions, or words are hurtful to us. That’s the subject for another day – how we handle hurts.
Many people are familiar with the first part of what is called the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference. I like the personalized version I once heard: God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change (everyone else), the courage to change the one person I can change (me), and the wisdom to know the difference.
That’s not to say we cannot influence others or should not share our needs and wants. It’s just to say that when someone disappoints or annoys us, rather than taking action to try to fix or change that person, we should concentrate on having an appropriate reaction. This includes not letting our emotions get out of control.
Like many key principles, it is easier said than done. We have to start with the proper thoughts and reactions, then take action to apply the principle. We must be willing to change ourselves, first our thoughts, then our actions and reactions. And this requires wisdom.