Happiness Wisdom from Adam Smith
I was reading some Adam Smith and came across the following and was struck by the timelessness and relevance of his insights. It is worth your while to work your way through the dense prose (typos and formatting is mine, words are Adam Smith’s). With all the negativity that swirls around us in these chaotic times it is useful to remember from where happiness springs.
The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another. Avarice over-rates the difference between poverty and riches: ambition, that between a private and a public station: vain-glory, that between obscurity and extensive reputation. The person under the influence of any of those extravagant passions, is not only miserable in his actual situation, but is often disposed to disturb the peace of society, in order to arrive at that which he so foolishly admires.
The slightest observation however might satisfy him, that, in all the ordinary situations of human life, a well-disposed mind may be equally calm, equally cheerful, and equally contented. Some of those situation may, no doubt, deserve to be preferred to others: but none of them can deserve to be pursued with the passionate ardour which drives us to violate the rules either of prudence or of justice; or to corrupt the future tranquility of our minds, either by shame from the remembrance of our own folly, or by remorse from the horror of our own injustice. Whenever prudence does not direct, whenever justice does not permit, the attempt to change our situation, the man who does attempt it, plays at the most unequal of al games of hazard, and stakes every thing against scarce any thing.
What the favourite of the king of Epirus said to his master, may be applied to men in all the ordinary situations of human life. When the King had recounted to him, in their proper order, all the conquests which he proposed to make, and had come to the last of them; And what does your Majesty propose to do then? said the Favourite. — I propose then, said the King, to enjoy myself with my friends, and endeavour to be good company over a bottle. — And what hinders your Majesty from doing so now? replied the Favourite.
In the most glittering and exalted situation that our idle fancy can hold out to us, the pleasures from which we propose to derive our real happiness, are almost always the same with those which, in our actual, though humble station, we have at all times at hand, and in our power. Except the friolous pleasure of vanity and superiority, we may find, in the most humble station, where there is only peronsal liberty, every other which the most exalted can afford; and the pleasure of vanity and superiority are seldom consistent with perfect tranquility, the principle and foundation of all real and satisfactory enjoyment.
Source: Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) “Turgid Truth”