Category Archives: happiness

The pleasures of resentment

Dalrymple writes:

That the world is unequal, unfair, and often unjust is true, but resentment is, of all human emotions, among the least constructive and most incompatible with real happiness, though it may bring with it certain sour satisfactions, including the elimination of personal responsibility for one’s situation.

Unfortunately, also,

it is one of the few emotions that can last a lifetime, for it is protean in its ability to find justifications for itself.

Dalrymple points out that Nelson Mandela’s achievement was the avoidance of the interracial violence that had long been predicted as inevitable in South Africa and the only way things would ever change there. He did this by his dignity and lack of rancour after his release from prison and during his presidency.

The mental disease of happiness

Leafing through a medical journal, Dalrymple comes across a satirical paper by Thomas Szasz to the effect that happiness should be regarded as a mental disease insofar as

  1. it is rare
  2. it is unjustified
  3. the person suffering from it is out of touch with reality

That happy land

Dalrymple points out that in Switzerland, people don’t even know who their president is, he being so profoundly unimportant.

The curse of self-esteem


Oh, happy, happy Caligula!

Self-love, writes Dalrymple,

used to be a vice, but nowadays it is the nearest thing to a virtue, as a supposed precondition of our own mental health (whatever that might be).

The theory is that self-love

is a precondition to success, happiness, and resilience, and should therefore be taught early and probably incessantly.

Some people think

the promotion of youthful self-satisfaction and conceit an excellent idea, the key to the little ones’ future happiness.

Dalrymple points out that criminals,

especially the vicious rather than the merely pathetic ones, have very high self-esteem. They are generally proud of how awful they have been and positively swagger with satisfaction at their own competence in the matter of causing misery to others. They too have ‘core beliefs’ about themselves, all of them highly flattering. They even think they are lovable as well as admirable.

Postcards from Southsea

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 08.54.08Once a haven

of petty-bourgeois respectability, it is now seedy, its Victorian and Edwardian terraces divided into flats and bedsits for students, recipients of social security, and transients. I loved it.

There are

scores of little shops, with no chain shops in sight; and you could park for free for two hours.

Opposite the United Reformed Church (1911; converted into seedy flats), Dalrymple (probably without his wife, also a doctor, who takes the view that there may be enough books in the Maison Dalrymple already) visits Adelphi Books. Specialising in pre-war crime novels, it is

presided over by a pre-internet owner who did not spend his time poring over a computer comparing prices.


seemed delightfully unregulated; it was like going back several decades.

Dr and Dr Dalrymple meet up again and go to

an excellent and cheap Japanese restaurant – £17 [$25] for two with a beer included. The manager apologised for the slight delay in the arrival of the food (it was very slight). ‘We’re suddenly very busy,’ he said. ‘I expect it’s the rain. When the weather’s good, people have better things to do than come here.

Dalrymple’s reaction to this remark:

I think I could be happy in Southsea.

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The proprietor at Adelphi does not waste his time poring over a computer comparing prices

Where Conan Doyle was a general practitioner

Where Conan Doyle was a general practitioner

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The Southsea Dalrymple knew as a young man

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Excellent and cheap

Excellent and cheap

Conan Doyle's home and consulting-room

Conan Doyle’s home and consulting-room

Why drug-takers are such crashing bores

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 06.46.55Dalrymple points out that drugs,

far from being expanders of consciousness, severely limit it. One of the characteristics of drug-takers is their intense and tedious self-absorption; their journeys into inner space are forays into inner vacuums. Drug-taking is a lazy man’s way of pursuing happiness and wisdom, and the shortcut turns out to be the deadest of dead ends.

Use of narcotics

has the effect of reducing men’s freedom by circumscribing the range of their interests. It impairs their ability to pursue more important human aims, such as raising a family and fulfilling civic obligations. Very often it impairs their ability to pursue gainful employment and promotes parasitism.

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Young man in the sun

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 08.08.39Peter Greave, writes Dalrymple, was born in India

to a father with a large and expansive personality, an infinite capacity to delude himself and others about business schemes that varied from the merely fantastic to the outright fraudulent, and an unfortunate propensity for sexual exhibitionism. He would disappear for long periods, deserting his family, and then reappear unexpectedly.

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 08.08.59Greave’s mother

was utterly devoted to her husband even though he proved himself unworthy of her over and over.


spent time in orphanages and in various down-at-heel and cruel boarding schools in the India of the Raj. His escape from one of them reads like an adventure story. His education was spotty, interrupted and short; his subsequent life in India, going from one absurd job to another, was rackety, unstable and precarious, and yet he was happy.

Knack of living miserably

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 08.59.14The lack of gaiety in Dalrymple’s childhood home

Dalrymple relates that his parents

had everything to make them happy, but instead they persisted in living as miserably as the Captain and his wife in Strindberg’s Dance of Death.

For the first 18 years of his life, Dalrymple did not hear his parents

address a single word to one another. When I went to a friend’s home where parents spoke to one another, I found it strange and even mildly disconcerting. Speech, in my opinion, was not for parents and was unnecessarily noisy or loud.

It was, he says,

almost as if they felt a duty to live in this fashion. Happiness for them would have been almost a betrayal, a manifestation of not living correctly.

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 14.46.33Dalrymple explains (from 37:05) that a book was recently sent to him through the post by its publishers

in the hope that I would make some reference to it or even review it.

In 360 pages, the book

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 14.40.02sought to prove, with an immense machinery of academic references, that human beings, on the whole, are happier if they have some face-to-face and person-to-person contact.

Dalrymple’s comment:

Imagine someone going to Shakespeare and earnestly explaining to him the content of this book.

‘Well, William. Did you know that human beings need one another to be happy? I bet you didn’t, because, poor chap, you lived in the 16th century.’

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 14.31.50I don’t think the Bard would have been bemused, because nothing human bemused him, but he might have been amused.

Two lines of his might have run through his head: Lord, what fools these mortals be!* and O brave new world, That has such people in’t!

*A Midsummer Nights Dream, Act 3, scene 2, 110–115; †The Tempest, Act 5, scene 1, 181–184