Bertrand Russell opens his book The Conquest of Happiness by suggesting that we are all familiar with happiness and unhappiness and that we can identify these emotional states in ourselves and in others, but that we are often at a loss to find the sources of these states. Russell stakes out what he sees are the causes of both happiness and unhappiness with the idea that helping folks to recognize the sources will help them to live their lives in a way that will heighten the chances for happiness. It isn't enough to just try to be happy, we must avoid unhappiness as much as strive for those things that make us happy -- family, productive work, individual interests, and so on.
In sources of unhappiness, Russell writes four general maxims:
1. remember that your motives are not always as altruistic as they seem to yourself
2. don't overestimate your own merits
3. don't expect others to take as much interest in you as you do yourself
4. don't imagine that most people give enough thought to you to have any desire to persecute you.
I like these maxims because they remind us to be aware of two things: that our judgments of ourselves are often stilted in our own favor and that our vision of others is often clouded by this. Russell asks us to be more aware of who we are in relation to others and to be vigilant in taking others into consideration.
*I had originally planned a much longer version of this which included some thoughts on Aristotle and some lines from Nietzsche's Ecce Homo. That version was scrapped because this draft had been languishing in the FLP ether for too long and it became obvious that I would never have finished the whole things as I had envisioned it. mr