I summarized the below points from Pascal’s Pense’s 136. They give you the gist of his argument.
- The main reason people are unhappy is because they are not content merely being at home inside their house.
- Most wars would never happen if powerful men were content and knew how to stay home and enjoy it.
- Men wouldn’t enlist in the army if they knew how to stay home and enjoy it.
- If men are deprived of diversion they are unhappy. They need diversion so they don’t think about what they are.
- The good thing for men is to be diverted from thinking.
- What people want is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, or dangers of war, or the burdens of office, but the agitation that takes our mind off it and diverts us. That is why we prefer the hunt to the capture.
- This is why men are so fond of hustle and bustle. and why prison is a fearful punishment.
- People have a secret instinct that drives them to seek diversion and busyness, and this is a result from their constant sense of wretchedness. They have another secret instinct left over from the greatness of our original nature, telling them that the only true happiness lies in rest and not excitement.
- This leads people to seek rest by way of activity and busyness always imagining that if you can get one more promotion, or start one more company or just make $20k extra per year, that the door will open and welcome rest.
- Our entire lives pass this way – (1) we seek rest by training to get more things like money, jobs, businesses, etc, (2) once we get these things rest becomes intolerable because of the boredom it produces. Therefore people look for excitement and diversion to take their minds off it.
- Man is so unhappy that he’d be bored even if he didn’t have a cause to be bored and so vain that even the slightest thing like pushing a wood stick into a billiard ball is enough to divert him.
For me this really hit home when I read it. I was in the process of starting up another company, working until at least midnight every night. I realized that I already have exactly what I want. I have time to read books and study (my passion) and time to spend with my family. Why should I keep spending a ton of time and energy all to gain what, what I already have?
If you don’t want to take Pascal’s word for it, take Solomon’s in Ecclesiastes. He says the same thing.
So if you feel like your life is busy and overwhelming and you keep dreaming about how good life will be if you just get one more promotion, remember, that’s not going to make you happy. Being content with what you got will :-).