The response to my yesterday’s post “Doing Without” has been very interesting. It is after I read the comments that I realized that I should have perhaps added the context in which my friend sent me the quote. The context is in his present despondent mood, having lost his wife of 38 years to cancer. He was talking about his sudden loneliness and I had expressed that if I could, I would have gone over to be with him for some time as, he is unable to leave his home due to his own commitments.
The happiness quotient for material things certainly can be explained away by all that my readers have commented upon. Quite how does one do so in the context of a relationship that has ended in a tragic way? Having personally gone through the experience of losing my wife last year, I can understand his despondency. I think that I have come to grips with the loss whereas he has been unable to so far. He is taking recourse to philosophy!
Let me quote Bertrand Russel in full:
“I have frequently experienced myself the mood in which I felt that all is vanity; I have emerged from it not by any philosophy, but owing to some imperative necessity of action. If your child is ill, you may be unhappy, but you will not feel that all is vanity; you will feel that the restoring of the child to health is a matter to be attended to regardless of the question of whether there is ultimate value in human life or not. … The feeling is one born of a too easy satisfaction of natural needs. The human animal, like others, is adapted to a certain amount of struggle for life, and when by means of great wealth homo sapiens can gratify all his whims without effort, the mere absence of effort from his life removes an essential ingredient of happiness. The man who acquires easily things for which he feels only a very moderate desire concludes that the attainment of desire does not bring happiness. If he is of a philosophic disposition, he concludes that human life is essentially wretched, since the man who has all he wants is still unhappy. He forgets that to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”(Emphasis mine)
In the context of relationships, this does not make sense. Having had one very satisfying and happy relationship for decades and to suddenly to lose it and “be without” cannot be part of happiness. Unless he is totally unfeeling or he has suddenly found an alternative, how can he be happy immediately after the loss?
I am sure that my friend will get over his despondency in time. I certainly hope so. On the other hand, I also know of a some cases where this was not possible, and the surviving spouse wasted away.
Something does not quite gel with what Bertrand Russell says when it comes to doing without relationships when one has lost a cherished one.