S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
This virtue [content] does indeed produce, in some measure, all those effects which the alchymist usually ascribes to what he calls the philosophers stone; and if it does not bring riches, it does the same thing, by banishing the desire of them. If it cannot remove the disquietudes arising out of a mans mind, body, or fortune, it makes him easy under them. It has indeed a kindly influence on the soul of man in respect of every being to whom he stands related. It extinguishes all murmur, repining, and ingratitude towards that Being who has allotted to him his part to act in this world. It destroys all inordinate ambition, and every tendency to corruption, with regard to the community wherein he is placed. It gives sweetness to his conversation, and a perpetual serenity to all his thoughts. Among the many methods which might be made use of for the acquiring of this virtue, I shall mention the two following: First of all, a man should always consider how much he has more than he wants; and secondly, how much more unhappy he might be than he really is.
As for a little more money and a little more time, why its ten to one if either one or the other would make you a whit happier. If you had more time, it would be sure to hang heavily. It is the working man is the happy man. Man was made to be active, and he is never so happy as when he is so. It is the idle man is the miserable man. What comes of holidays, and far too often of sight-seeing, but evil? Half the harm that happens is on those days. And as for moneyDont you remember the old saying, Enough is as good as a feast? Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and trebles that want another way. That was a true proverb of the wise man, rely upon it: Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure, and trouble therewith.
It is justly remarked by Horace, that howsoever every man may complain occasionally of the hardships of his condition, he is seldom willing to change it for any other on the same level; for whether it be that he who follows an employment made choice of it at first on account of its suitableness to his inclination; or that when accident, or the determination of others, have placed him in a particular station, he, by endeavouring to reconcile himself to it, gets the custom of viewing it only on the fairest side; or whether every man thinks that class to which he belongs the most illustrious, merely because he has honoured it with his name; it is certain that, whatever be the reason, most men have a very strong and active prejudice in favour of their own vocation, always working upon their minds, and influencing their behaviour.
It is not for man to rest in absolute contentment. He is born to hopes and aspirations, as the sparks fly upwards, unless he has brutified his nature, and quenched the spirit of immortality which is his portion.
When the mind has been perplexed with anxious cares and passions, the best method of bringing it to its usual state of tranquillity is, as much as we possibly can, to turn our thoughts to the adversities of persons of higher consideration in virtue and merit than ourselves. By this means all the little incidents of our own lives, if they are unfortunate, seem to be the effect of justice upon our faults and indiscretions. When those whom we know to be excellent, and deserving of a better fate, are wretched, we cannot but resign ourselves, whom most of us know to merit a much worse state than that we are placed in.
There are thousands so extravagant in their ideas of contentment as to imagine that it must consist in having everything in this world turn out the way they wishthat they are to sit down in happiness, and feel themselves so at ease on all points as to desire nothing better and nothing more. I own there are instances of some who seem to pass through the world as if all their paths had been strewed with rosebuds of delight; but a little experience will convince us tis a fatal expectation to go upon. We are born to trouble; and we may depend upon it whilst we live in this world we shall have it, though with intermissions;that is, in whatever state we are, we shall find a mixture of good and evil; and therefore the true way to contentment is to know how to receive these certain vicissitudes of life,the returns of good and evil, so as neither to be exalted by the one nor overthrown by the other, but to bear ourselves towards everything which happens with such ease and indifference of mind, as to hazard as little as may be. This is the true temperate climate fitted for us by nature, and in which every wise man would wish to live.
There is scarce any lot so low but there is something in it to satisfy the man whom it has befallen; Providence having so ordered things that in every mans cup, how bitter soever, there are some cordial dropssome good circumstances, which, if wisely extracted, are sufficient for the purpose he wants themthat is, to make him contented, and, if not happy, at least resigned.
That happy state of mind, so rarely possessed, in which we can say, I have enough, is the highest attainment of philosophy. Happiness consists, not in possessing much, but in being content with what we possess. He who wants little always has enough.