Philosophe Alain

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

A duty to be happy

It’s not difficult to be unhappy or dissatisfied ; it’s enough to sit down, like a prince waiting to be entertained ; there’s a look that eyes and weighs happiness like a commodity and casts the colour of boredom over everything;  not without a certain majesty, for there is a kind of power in scorning all offerings ; but I also see in that look an impatience and an anger towards the inventive workers who create happiness out of little, in the way that children create gardens. That’s not for me. I’ve seen from experience that you can’t distract people who bore themselves.

On the contrary, happiness is a most beautiful sight to see. What is more beautiful than a child?  Yet see how they put all of themselves into their games; they don’t wait for you to play for them. It’s true that a child in a sulk presents another face, one refusing all joy; and, happily, childhood quickly forgets, but we’ve all known grown-up children who have never stopped sulking. That they might have strong reasons, I know; it’s always difficult to be happy; it’s a struggle against many events and many people. It could be that one is defeated; there are, of course, events one can’t get over and misfortunes too strong for an apprentice Stoic; but it is perhaps the clearest duty to not call oneself defeated without having struggled with all one’s strength. And above all, and this seem obvious to me, it’s impossible to be happy if one doesn’t want to be happy; so we have to will our happiness and create it.


Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955), Fleurs rouges, 1952


What is not said enough often enough is that it’s also a duty towards others to be happy. It’s well said that only the happy are loved; but it’s forgotten that this reward is fair and deserved; for unhappiness, boredom and despair are in the air we all breathe; so we should honour and give a laurel wreath to those who eliminate those miasmas  and whose exemplary energy purifies, in some way, ordinary life. So there’s nothing deeper in love than the vow to be happy. What’s more difficult to overcome than the boredom, the sadness or the unhappiness of those we love? Every man and woman should always keep this in mind, that happiness, I mean the happiness that one has one for oneself, is the most beautiful and generous offering one can give.

I would even go so far as to propose some civic honour to reward those who have taken the resolution to be happy. For, in my opinion, all the corpses, all the ruins,  the mad  expenditure, and the preventive military manoeuvres, are the work of people who have never known how to be happy and can’t bear those who try. When I was a child I belonged to the heavyweight category, difficult to overcome, slow to move, slow to get excited. So it often happened that some lightweight, thin from sadness and boredom, amused himself by pulling my hair, pinching me, while making fun of me, until he received a strong punch. That put an end to it all. Now, as I observe some dwarf predicting and preparing war, I never examine his reasons because I know all about those evil genies who can’t hear people being tranquil. So a tranquil France, like a tranquil Germany, are in my eyes robust children, tormented and finally driven beyond endurance by a handful of malicious children.

Propos sur le Bonheur, xcii, 16/3/23

English translation copyright © Michel Petheram

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