1 Unhappiness

How much untold woe we bring on our heads in the hope of making ourselves happy one day. We are paddling madly to reach contentment, but all we do is churn the river of our misery to a more turbid froth and surge. We live in a frenzy, and die unconsoled.

What a long conglomeration of small sorrows our short lives have space for.

Happiness tastes so bland, that we keep spooning into it the spice of expectant desire, till we end up spoiling it. Though we stock all the ingredients to make a rich happiness, we brew up a foul stew of misery. We are thrust on by an unquenchable thirst for joy and by an ineradicable propensity for reducing plain gladness to seething grimness. Even fools are clever enough to make their lives simply wretched.

We’re just poised to reach the pinnacle of joy, and we’re trembling on the verge of a precipitous crash. It’s all about to come together at last, and it’s all on the point of falling apart.

Most of us never find peace, since the plain pleasures which we enjoy don’t satisfy us, and yet we don’t enjoy prosecuting the more serious career which we trust will meet all our needs. What makes life unendurable alone makes us endure it. We are harassed by the selfsame wants and hopes that we live for. And so we pay with our happiness to get what we deem we could not be happy if we lacked. Like moody Ahab, we are ‘damned in the midst of paradise.’ We long for peace, and we are all the time conducting this one last push to secure it, while fighting to fend off the death that will give it to us.

We are fools for improvement. We feel that life is no good if it’s not continually getting better. We have to race so frantically to make life better, how could we find the time simply to live well?

If there are things that we could easily do to benefit ourselves but we aren’t doing now, we can be sure that we never will do them, since we have no wish to.

Some people need the courage to combat unrelenting misery, since they lack the resolve to retreat from the routines that have caused them such harm. We are addicted to misery, but we soon lose the frail habit of happiness.

For the damned in hell each day is the same, and yet every morning they wake to a fresh horror.

There must be an infinite number of cells in the underworld to house the infinite states of torment that we have laid up for ourselves.

When others suffer from the same cause as me, I take heart that there was no way I could have dodged my suffering. And when they suffer from a divergent one, I brag how dexterously I have kept clear of their blunders.

Just when you trust that you have tamed life, it bares its fangs, and snarls, and shows you once more that it is a wolf and not a fawning cur.

Your misery may lurk for years in remission, but it will never be cured. It may break out years afterward in a violent attack, and kill you in a few weeks. This life ends so soon, and yet, as Van Gogh wrote, ‘there is no end to anguish.’ But most of us have the luck to succumb to some timely malady, before our real sadness gets the chance to snuff us out.

Life is either just bearable, or not. And it makes all the difference whether you know that you can bear it for one day more, or that you can’t bear it for so long as that.

You never know in what hell people might be burning, but often neither do they.

Pleasure seems so bright in anticipation, but so pale in possession. Joy ravishes you in prospect, dejection molests you in the present. Our expectancy has already sucked the juice from our pleasures before we reach them, and it leaves our experience nothing but their dry bones to pick over. We are far more present for our pains than we are for our pleasures. Your fantasies doom you to stalk fictitious gratifications, but won’t take your mind off your real pains. I chase joys, but they fly me. And creeping sorrows catch me, though I fly them. Anguish arrests you in the jangling now. Lust beckons you on to meet the shining future. The only people who live wholly for the moment are those that are wrung by agonizing pangs. If you are forced to live in the moment all you want to do is get out of it. Absorption in the here and now is a luxury praised by those who have something more enjoyable to do. Most of us have good reason not to live for the present hour.

Our bliss melts in the heat of our embrace.

Our world of instant gratification is by the same token a world of indefinite deferral. We can’t wait for anything, not even the bliss that we are in the midst of. We’re always charging off after some new pleasure which we hope will give us all we want. Our desires are self-defeating, since they no sooner transport us to some joy than they drag us out of it to chase some new quarry.

Life is a book that you can’t bear to put down, no matter how bad it gets. Who would choose to take it up? Yet who can dare to lay it aside, once they’ve been entrusted with the loathsome gift? Life is a poor thing to gain, but a great thing to lose.

Life lures us on like someone whom we have ceased to love but still can’t help lusting after. The world breaks your heart, but won’t snap the straps of hope and desire that keep you pinioned to it.

Our love of life is a case of Stockholm syndrome.

Life pays some people such starvation wages, why don’t they just quit? Though churlishly dissatisfied with the most opulent life, we still cling to the most beggarly one. The worse it gets, the tighter I hold on to it. On good days one feels almost strong enough to shuck off the burden of life. On bad days one is too discouraged to dare so much as that. ‘Man alone,’ wrote Tocqueville, ‘displays an inborn contempt of existence yet a boundless rage to exist. He scorns life, but he dreads annihilation.’ What mendicants we are, that all we have is life. And what misers we are, that all we want to do is hang on to it. To have eaten all that dirt, and still find life so sweet. We need to have the heart to go on, since we lack the nerve to give up. We can’t let go of the cheapest things, but we get rid of the most precious ones in a twinkling. Our fingers have to be prised from the gimcrack bauble which we clasp as if it were a priceless heirloom. The most starved of us find life so fresh and delectable, and hug so lovingly the thorns which lacerate us so bloodily. We promenade like great proprietors in a city in which we are paupers. ‘All of us are beggars here,’ as William James points out.

How sad to be leaving a world in which all that we loved has long since left us. How hard to let go of this life which our miseries have made so hard to bear.

Those who have lost all that they had still dread to lose the life that took it from them. And those who have got nothing are sure that a year or a day more will bring them all that they long for. We have no choice but to stay in the game, the losers in the hope of recouping what they’ve lost, the victors to win yet more and to reap the fruits of what they’ve won. Even the dying are still in love with the world which is killing them. Those who seem stoical in enduring the pangs that are sure to end in death may just be too attached to life to let it go. Life is the great swindle. It gives us nothing that we want, but keeps us hanging on for its least prize.

Most people can’t see how dark the world is, since it’s lit up so brightly for them by their own beaming self-belief.

Each new blow at least makes us forget how badly off we were before.

Earth’s atmosphere must contain some impalpable element, so favourable to life, so hostile to happiness. ‘Who would have thought that life could be so sad?’ asked Van Gogh out of the depths.

Life shows us so little pity, that we have to hope that death will show us some mercy. But would life treat us so untenderly, if it didn’t know how callous we are?

‘No man should be afraid to die,’ says Fuller, ‘who hath understood what it is to live.’ Life is such an atrocious scene, that the exit from it had to be festooned with terrors, to dissuade us from departing it. Dying had to be made so hard, because being dead is so easy. The part of death that is part of life is, like the rest of life, rugged and bitter. But the part that belongs all to death is kind and full of comfort. Death is more tender with us than we are with ourselves. It draws us gently into its welcome ocean, when we would hold back shivering and frightened on the edge. But when did we ever know what was good for us? Death, which knows nothing, knows our own good better than we do. We shun it, as a rabid dog shuns water. Why do we look for a saviour to deliver us from death, when death will come as our one sweet redeemer, to ransom us from the hell that we have made of this life? ‘We all labour against our own cure,’ as Browne wrote, ‘for death is the cure of all diseases.’ We fight to put off what will free us, and fly to meet what will make us its slave. We love life and hate death, yet death gives us all that we need, while life doesn’t give us a thing that we want.

Immortality would be as harrowing as an unabated insomnia. One sleepless night ought to cure anyone of the yearning for eternity. Life has played us such filthy tricks, we may well fear that death won’t be the last of them. Since this life is hell, it might stretch out till the crack of doom. We may wake to find that the nightmare will have no cease. The thought that it won’t go on for ever is all that could keep a sane person going.

Death, like most good things, comes too late for many of us, but at least it does come.

To live is to play chess blindfold against a grandmaster who has not lost a game, and can change or break the rules at will, and makes three moves for your one.

We can’t see what’s in store for us, but we can be sure that it won’t be good. Even while we sleep, some indifferent doom is preparing the catastrophe that will flatten us. ‘I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet, yet trouble came.’

When you feel heartsick, even your dear familiar places seem smeared with a mildew of stale misery.

Try to run from your troubles, and you will have to strain all your muscle to lug them with you.

You scent the sadness behind the gladdest and shiniest things, you feel it on the most brilliant and tranquil days, you taste it in the pastness of the past and in the otherness of other people’s lives.

We have all been coached to read our life as a plot, and we know that every plot is preordained to come to a gratifying close. Since all our stories are about ourselves, we can’t stand any that don’t have a happy ending.

How we curse the smugness of those who are as happy as we were till yesterday. And how we wish that we could still afford to be as smug as they. We collaborate with the world to trample our way to what we want, till the world at length tramples on us, and we cry out at its unfairness.

The light drizzle of small irritations will in time drench you as thoroughly as a sudden downpour of affliction, yet it still feels quite different.

Life bludgeons you like a demented tyrant. It levies an onerous impost on happiness without disbursing a cent of it to those who lack it. It’s a bully, which loves to cudgel those who can least bear it. Why does it load the most crushing bundles on the most enfeebled shoulders?

As soon as the world starts to maltreat you, you might as well just give up. You can be sure that it won’t leave off till it’s beaten you to a jelly.

There is no justice in this world. And yet you still have to pay for all that you get and all that you fail to.

This niggardly world treats some people with malicious charity, and grants them all but the one thing that they most long for.

How the changeless returning seasons carelessly lacerate our sad and changing hearts.

2 Too important to be happy

How could conceited people presage the misery that they’re in for, when they have too much conceit to acknowledge how foolishly they starve their real good to feed fat their empty self-opinion?

I’m sure that I am too important to be unhappy, and that those who are not me are not important enough. What right have they to be happy, since they don’t share my high purpose? And yet what reason have they to be wretched, when they don’t have to bear the weight of my grave responsibilities? My quest is of such consequence, that I can’t afford to be slowed down by such ordeals. But their troubles count for so little, that they should be able to bear them with ease. And we’re so sure of our own worth that we feel we have no right to make so dire a rent in the world by bereaving it of our bright attendance.

We lapse into habits of unhappiness by inflating our own significance. We feel half jealous of others, seeing that, unlike us, none of their loves or schemes matter enough to be worth breaking their hearts for when they fail. We both envy and disdain them for their trifling bliss, as we do children or birds, the immortals or the dead. Those who feel that they are chosen know what it is to be cursed. Self-importance is a yeast which leavens our happiness. But add too much, and you make it too acid to digest. And yet we can’t stay buoyantly joyful, unless we’re ballasted by such a freight of it that we might well capsize.

We could easily get what we want, but we waste our lives struggling to get what everyone else wants. Happiness seems so fleeting and unsubstantial, that we give up the search for it and spend all our time amassing the more solid and lasting acquirements of our greed, in order to prove to our rivals that we’re happier than they are, though they don’t care in the least how happy we may be. We would rather have less, so long as they have less too, than have more, on the condition that they should have more than us.

We don’t want to be happy, we want to be happier than others, as Montesquieu points out. But not even that is enough for us. We want them to know it. ‘Happiness is nothing if it is not known,’ Johnson says, ‘and very little if it is not envied.’ How pitiful we are, that one of the keenest joys we know is the pain that we imagine we cause our rivals by our success.

Some people know that they are chosen, because things that are forbidden to others are permitted to them. Others know that they are chosen, because things that are permitted to others are forbidden to them. To be cursed is one way of being chosen.

We burn in the hell of the insignificant. But all we feel is the warmth of our self-importance.

Life is such small beer, but our self-delight lends it the fizz and flavour of the best champagne.

3 Happiness

You don’t need good reasons to go on living if you’re happy. It’s only the hapless who need that.

In order to find joy, I try to make myself believe that all’s well with me, but I may feel even more need to make others believe it. Unwilling as I am to give up the lies that I live by, I’m yet more unwilling to let others know that I’ve seen through how much I was fooled by them. We don’t only want to seem good more than be good. We want to seem happy more than we want to be happy. Our happiness is in large part a creation of how happy we deem others perceive us to be. We seek the goods that others hoped would make them happy. And then we judge how happy we are by how happy they judge us to be on the strength of how many of these we have got hold of.

We forge our brief joys out of our vacillating fantasies, and our lasting happiness out of our life-long illusions.

Happiness is as shallow as beauty and as wise as truth.

Happiness, like health, streamlines life for you, so that you can breeze through it with least resistance.

If you hope to find peace, you have to forswear the knowledge of your own sad heart, which would steal all the joy that your sottishness and self-infatuation have lavished on you. We catch happiness as a lucky symptom of the endemic malady of conceitedness. We might feel content with the world and our own lot, if we had a grain less presumption or a grain more, if we thought a shred better of our merits or didn’t think so well of them.

There are four keys to happiness, live on the surface, think none but the most conventional thoughts, care for nothing but what is your own, and keep in such a hurry that you can’t tell how happy you are. So why, when each one of us holds these keys in our pocket, are we still so weary-hearted?

Happiness is a mild and settled self-intoxication. We are so fuddled with our own self-flattery, that we don’t feel a lot of the nettles that life would jab us with.

You might be more content, if you thought a jot more or a jot less. Those who never think of anything but their own selves feel sorry for themselves that they think too much.

Some people know themselves so well that they find the key to happiness, and some that they lose it. The lighthearted could afford to know who they are but have no need to, the downcast need but can’t bear to.

We are so wretched because we cling to such fallacious ideas. And yet if we shook them off we would lose all chance of happiness, which is, as Swift points out, ‘a perpetual possession of being well deceived.’ It has manifold recipes, but they all share the one staple constituent of self-delusion. ‘Take away their saving lie from ordinary people,’ Ibsen says, ‘and you take away their joy as well.’

The prosperous are sure that their wisdom has earned them their prosperity. The miserable are sure that their misery has won them their grim wisdom.

If you’re resigned to be unhappy, the surest way is to be clever. If your aim is to be happy, learn to be wise. But if you can’t be either of these, it’s enough to be stupid.

Self-deluding people know how to make the best of their imprisonment by insisting that they are free.

Be sure to reserve a basket of nagging aggravations as decoys against which to explode your noxious heartsickness. Use your day to day irritants to trap and dispose of your more venomous discontents. You can’t be happy, if you don’t continue to do a few burdensome things that you trust you’d be supremely happy if you ceased to do.

Happiness showers sparks of annoyance as it steams on to some ever-receding goal. Dejection is a foul vapour exhaled from the brackish fen of wretchedness.

Distraction is the blight of happiness. Concentration is the curse of misery. You can’t be happy if you’re not diverted by all the busy impositions which prevent you from savouring it. The heavy-hearted have to trudge round in the same ever-decreasing rings of routine, since they fear the shocks that might knock them down if they stepped out of them. And yet they dread to be dragged back down memory’s sad avenues of desolation. They have no home on this earth, but they feel impelled to revisit each day the same stinking spot which they lack the power to leave. Misery, which is all too wide for this narrow world, hems us in to a more and more constricted scene. Gaiety thrusts us on and out to chase toys and titillations. Contentment, like a tolerant commonwealth, allows the whole garden of your gifts to flower. But heartache, like a vain autocrat, constrains them to turn their face to it.

We feel light and joyous, when our gadding desires jockey us so fast that we don’t sense the weight of our despair pressing down on us. How miserable we must be, that we can find our way to happiness only by beetling so giddily that we don’t have leisure to feel how happy we are. We bolt life so ravenously, that we scarcely taste it as it goes down, and yet we’re soon hungering for more. It’s only the careworn who have as much time as they want, and they wish that they had less.

Happiness needs to maintain a high velocity in order to stay airborne.

It’s not your past but the years which you have left that your sadness makes seem long.

In order to be happy, it’s necessary but not sufficient to be healthy, and it’s sufficient but not necessary to be loved. And it’s more needful to love than it is to be loved, though it’s more dreadful not to be loved than not to love.

We won’t be at peace so long as we keep desiring. But if we once ceased to desire we might as well be dead. More won’t make you happy. And yet wheresoever joy goes, it goes hand in hand with the lust for gain. Happiness, like money, won’t meet your needs, but the lack of it will wring your heart. And though wealth won’t content you, possessing more of it than others may almost do so. Life’s a whore that smiles on none but those who can pay.

Money won’t make us happy, but neither will any of the more exalted goods that we count on to do it.

Money may not be able to buy love or happiness, but the brutal drive that can heap it up may be the force best able to seize love and happiness as well, or at least to make others believe that it can, which is the next best thing.

The poor can now afford the jaunty and hectic greed that the rich have instead of happiness.

Progress has provided all of us with more and more deluxe substitutes for joy.

I waste my days deferring happiness and galloping past pleasure. Happiness is no more than the promise of happiness. It never gives itself to us as a present possession. ‘Man never is, but always to be, blessed,’ as Pope wrote.

If happiness is our goal, we have hit on the craziest route to reach it.

Illusion frees us to act and be happy. Truth would freeze the will to act.

Most of us would rather be busy than happy. We love to be doing, even when we don’t much like what it is that we’re doing.

The wise scorn the vacuous bustle and commotion which ordinary people mistake for happiness, and yet they are mistaken to think that there is anything more to happiness than this.

Our discontent makes us restless, and our restless activity yields us as much happiness as we will ever get.

Find your peace, and you grow independent from the world, but more fit to please and be pleased by it. A sense of wellbeing may not improve you or set you on to help, but it will make you more useful and competent to help.

In order to please, all you need do is smile and show that you are inclined to be pleased.

4 The gospel of work

Most people love happiness because they are in love with life, but a few because they’ve found that this is the best way to keep it at bay. They scorn life too much to think it worth the pains which its afflictions cost them. They use cheerfulness to hold life at arm’s length so it won’t sink its teeth in them and savage them, and they seek a placid joy to immunize themselves against its unquiet fever. Most of us strive for some other goal in the hope that it might lead us to happiness. A few aim to reach happiness because they want to be free to strive for some worthier goal. They treat living like punctuation, an unavoidable but blank pause which divides the words and sentences. But it’s these that are their true work which goes on elsewhere. ‘The only happiness a brave man ever troubled himself with asking much about,’ Carlyle said, ‘was happiness enough to get his work done,’ though it’s the work itself that must supply this. Happiness is like a line of credit that they draw down, so that they can make the most of their gifts.

‘Only in work,’ wrote Delacroix, ‘have I felt altogether happy.’ Out of their pain artists make their work, and out of their work they make their happiness, and this sets them free to go on working. In its mellow autumn they harvest the fruits sown in less settled weather. ‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy,’ as the psalmist sings. Perhaps they learn by suffering, but they can make no use of what they’ve learnt till they’ve found their peace once more. Misery may school them, but what they glean from it is a lesson of delight. Affliction leaves wounds, glad days leave works. Delight purges their style, and perfects their disenchantment. Misery dins their ears like a pelting tempest, but in joy’s halcyon calm they can hear the soft voice of reason and inspiration. When they gain their happiness and slough off their illusions, they grow free to turn their back on the world’s work and do their own.

5 The triviality of happiness

The mind does not have cliffs of fall, but mole hills from which you plummet as if from the most dizzying peaks. Misery makes clear to us what matters, which is nothing at all. Life is a shallow abyss. It is as low and as sheer as the plunge from the gallows. It’s as dreadful to drown in a ditch as it is in the ocean. ‘The worst trials are visited on us by trivial things,’ said Multatuli. ‘Moses and the Lord knew what they were doing. They plagued Egypt not with tigers but with grasshoppers.’ Live through an earthquake, and a dripping tap may still wear down all your hope. We ache in proportion to our own paltriness, and not in proportion to the source of our woes. A deep soul stifles for lack of oxygen in the shoals of this world. ‘Nothing,’ as Johnson says, ‘is too little for such a little being as man.’ The world is too small for our cravings, but too large for our capabilities.

The shallowest people have a sea of deep reasons to make them happy or unhappy. And yet even the deepest of us is happy or unhappy for reasons that are quite shallow.

The sole happiness that you can count on to last is made by a propitious accident of parentage and upbringing which is quite out of your control. The least chance of birth or rearing gives you more contentment than the most sublime and assiduous wisdom could have done. How happy you are will depend more on your chemistry than on your philosophy.

Let go of your happiness, and you learn that unhappiness is too much for you. Win through to it, and you learn that happiness is too little. But it is still worth attaining, so that you won’t have to waste your years in the hunt for it. And yet once you have built your house of joy, however light it may be, it will crush you when it collapses.

If you can’t tell from your afflictions how little life matters, you can at least tell from your success.

Does happiness count for nothing, since the lowest worm lusts for it? Or is the least creature blessed with an illimitable value, because it too yearns to win joy? Even a squashed bug squirms for life.

In the next world, between heaven and hell there is a great gulf fixed, but in this one, a paper wall is all that keeps them apart.

God adds a pinch of the macabre and degrading to all our ordeals, to rob them of the dignity that might have redeemed them and to show us what we are, as if to kick us head first into the mud as we stagger out the door, drunk with desperation and disrepute. The last indignity that petty suffering pelts us with is to make us as petty as itself.

Some trials harrow you by requiring you to act while rendering you incapable of action, and some do so because they make all action vain.

It is the fall and not the being down that hurts you worst. So some fear most of all to ascend once more from shade to sunshine. ‘Drowning is not so pitiful,’ Dickinson wrote, ‘as the attempt to rise.’

We aim so low, yet we still miss our mark. Like Madame Bovary, we dream such tawdry dreams, and yet even these life brings to nought. How aridly we answer its lushness, and how insufficient it is to supply us with what is worth possessing. You must want something small indeed, if you trust that the world could give it to you.

Happiness is the pale bourgeois surrogate for the rapture or damnation for which the princely old states squandered all their strength.

Not even suffering abysmally cures us of thinking superficially. Life weighs us down, but fails to deepen us. It doesn’t grow. It thins out as it gets longer, and has less to show us as it gets darker.

We suffer too much, and we can’t suffer enough. When our ills yield to such quack tonics, aren’t we tempted to disparage even our health? The incurable has so much more dignity. We have to pretend that life gushes with horrors, so as to gain the strength to bear its emptiness. Shallow people would rather feel dejected for seeming deep reasons than be cheerful for superficial ones. They cling to their heartachings, rather than grant that they could heal them. They prefer to put up with a lifelong ailment than go through a quick and painless cure. When you’re young, unhappiness alone may seem deep enough for life. But as you grow older, you learn that life is too light to be worth such unhappiness. Aren’t most of our afflictions as trivial as the goals that we aim at? However piercingly we suffer, we still remain buoyantly superficial.

The glum years write our life in a turgid and formulaic verse, the glad ones in a reserved and self-forgetting prose. But the quiet prose of happiness here and there breaks out in glee’s brief and causeless poetry. We breathe a sense of wellbeing as ordinary as air, but we inhale a rare joy as volatile as oxygen.

How is life so vacuous, and yet so rife with terrors? How do its tight confines house such vast bitterness? How is it that we stay so hollow, yet burst with such swollen griefs? How does something as blunt as life hack our souls so frightfully, and why does what counts for so little hurt us so much? How does such a light thing crush us like lead? How does what will end so soon seem to have space for such endless sorrow? We are neither as simply blessed nor as grievously stricken as we ought to be. Having created the world to wound us, the Lord in his lenity made us superficial enough to bear it. ‘Nature,’ as Voltaire wrote, ‘has made us frivolous to console us for our woes.’ And yet who is so shallow, that they can’t be deeply pierced.

Our predicament is profound and tragic. But its causes are superficial and absurd.

We ought to have a word for disasters that don’t matter. Would such a word not sum up so much of life? We act out in this world, as Swift said, ‘a ridiculous tragedy, which is the worst kind of composition.’

We need so little in order to be happy, but we need that little so much. To win your happiness, you don’t need much, but you always need more. And you could scarcely guess how slight a lack will rob you of all your peace. ‘I have wanted only one thing to make me happy,’ Hazlitt said, ‘but wanting that have wanted everything.’ How much the ravenous heart craves, and what coarse gruel it makes its meal on. How little it might take to make us happy. But most of us want a lot more than that.

We are used up by all life’s sad commotion and bewildering ecstasies.

Life flows like a river, perturbed by the least cause, but loath to change its course for the greatest. Our glad times gleam not like a wildfire but like a few flickering embers. Our pleasures dance like the brief spangles on the afternoon freshet as it heads out to oblivion.

The triviality of life would crush me, if I weren’t rapt up in the trivial occupations which prove to me how much it means. ‘We are so trivial by nature,’ Céline wrote, ‘that only our diversions can stop us dying for real.’

You can make a full and happy life out of a conscious futility. Dickinson toiled for twenty queenly years to shape her impeccable songs, which she felt sure no one would hear.

Joy, like love, is a generous but jealous god, which inflicts a fearful beating on any who dare to reject its gifts.

Our wings melt before we have left the ground. Yet we still break our necks when we fall.

6 Optimism and pessimism

We use pessimism as a kind of insurance, but its premiums cost so much that they go halfway to bankrupting us. Lugubrious people pay so dear to insure against catastrophe, how could they afford plain happiness? They hope to forestall the worst by foreseeing it. But their fretting levies such costly instalments of expected anguish, that it beggars them of the serenity that they were endeavouring to preserve.

Expect the worst, and you’ll never be prepared for how bad it will get.

Life makes liars of those who boast that they have abandoned hope. A pessimist expects so little, and yet is still disappointed, an optimist expects so much, and never is. Their hopes are so blind that they won’t see when they’ve been dashed.

Life belies our hopes, but is it worth our apprehensions? We are driven to optimism out of despair that our pessimism held too high an expectation of our fellow men and women.

An optimist lives by the expansive egoism of hope, a croaking pessimist by the pinched egoism of fear.

Optimism is the gullible and cunning creed of hucksters, spruikers and boosters. They trumpet it, because they have so much faith in themselves, or else to cajole their satellites to have faith in them. They know that hope sells and that what is sold is hope. If you want to get rich, you need to have hope. And if you aim to inspire hope, you need to believe.

Our optimism yokes the force of our naive self-belief to the cunning of our worldly self-seeking.

The success of optimism confirms the pessimist’s worst fears. How does such a meretricious creed win so much trust?

Few of us waste our costly pessimism or our arduous hopes on anyone’s plight but our own.

We love to be seen to hope against hope when we know that the failure of what we hope for will not touch us.

Pessimism may be weak and cowardly, but who in these hopeless times is brave enough to face the bad news that we are set on a path that will make the world worse and worse? Let go of the craven lie of optimism, and what do you have left to spur you on to act courageously?

We are now so delicate, that we can’t even swallow optimism if it’s not sugared with nostalgia.

We used to cling to the illusions of faith to console us for the truth that we can’t be happy on this earth. Now we are too weak to acknowledge so much as that.

We don’t want to face our real predicament, since we can’t bear to undergo the shock treatment it calls for.

There are two kinds of optimists. The first don’t want to take the cure, and so claim that the malaise is not real. The second accept that it is real, and must therefore pretend that the cure is well on the way to succeeding.

An optimist is one who trusts that things can’t get much worse. A pessimist is one who fears that this may indeed be the best of all possible worlds, and that it’s now so bad that it can only grow more dire.

Our rapacious optimism will make this the most exciting time to be alive, since we doubtlessly won’t leave a scrap for those who are so unlucky as to come after us.