Friday 16 May 2014

Quietist Proverbs, Part One

Sometimes proverbs are ludicrously over-optimistic (“You can have anything you want as long as you want it enough!”). And some look encouraging but are utterly meaningless (“You are as precious as the love you feel for others”). They coexist with proverbs that resemble the subliminal messages spread by colonialist aliens in the film They Live:

Who wants us to sit down and stop the rocking the boat? And why? Whoever they are, they want us to be humble and uncomplaining. We have to realise it’s all our fault. They don’t want to protect us, and they don’t want to make society fairer. They like exhorting us to do difficult, dangerous and pointless things. And if the bungee cord breaks they’d like us to know that it’s all part of the cosmic pattern, and besides, think of the good it’s doing to our characters. There’s always some reason why we shouldn’t fight back.

They like being counterintuitive.
An obedient wife commands her husband.
It’s better to give than to receive.
Pools winners are never happy.
Real freedom is about living with limitations. (Template: real x is [the opposite of X].)
The more you get, the more you want.
The journey, not the arrival, matters.

And they really don't want us to be happy.
A lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it: it would be hell on earth. (George Bernard Shaw)

Be happy with what you’ve got.

Content is all.
Content is happiness.
Content is more than a kingdom.

Happiness is a journey not a destination.

Happiness is as a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of travelling.
Happiness isn't getting all you want. It's enjoying all you have.
Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort. (F.D. Roosevelt)

It is comparison that makes men happy or miserable.
It’s the simple things that make you happy.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The purpose of life is the expansion of happiness now. (Deepak Chopra)

The pursuit of happiness is a most ridiculous phrase; if you pursue happiness you’ll never find it. (C.P. Snow)

The secret to happiness is as simple as learning to love what you already have. (Rev Andy Pakula)
There is more delight in hope than in enjoyment. (Japanese proverb)
To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness. (Bertrand Russell)

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about. (Charles Kingsley)

We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. (Frederick Koenig)

You only experience happiness in retrospect. (Popular in the revolutionary 80s, when we trying to build a better world. Why bother, if we're never going to be happy in it?)

Fortunately some proverbs distil human wisdom and give good advice.


  1. I suppose it shows that happiness is a major issue, so we think we want advice and help, but so much in unhelpful. Also, looking at the people who give advice....