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.

Make a vow

Pessimism comes from mood; optimism from willpower. Anyone who lets themselves go is sad, which is too mild a term, and soon irritated and angry. As we can see in children’s games without rules that become a fight, and from no other cause than this confused energy turning on and biting itself. In fact, there is no good mood; mood, to be precise is always bad, and all happiness comes from willpower and self-control. In all cases reasoning must submit. Mood constructs astonishing systems, which we can see exaggerated in madmen; there’s always some probability and eloquence in the words of an unhappy man who believes he’s being persecuted. Optimistic eloquence is something calming; it only opposes long-winded fury; it soothes; it’s the tone that is convincing and the words matter less than the melody. That dog’s growl, which we can always hear in mood, is what has to be changed first; for it’s a definite illness within us, and produces all kinds of harm outside of us. This is why politeness is a good policy; the two words are related: being polite is politic.

Insomnia teaches us something here; and each of us knows this singular state, which would have us believe that existence is unbearable in itself. We have to look closely here. Self-control is part of existence; better still it governs and secures this existence.  First of all, through action. The idle thoughts of a man sawing wood soon become positive.  When the pack is hunting, the dogs don’t fight each other. So the first remedy for the ills of thought is to saw wood. But thought fully awake is already soothing; in making a choice, it acts as a diversion. Now this is the malady in insomnia; you want to sleep and you tell yourself not to move and not to choose. In this absence of self-control, movements and ideas together soon follow a mechanical course; the dogs start fighting. Every movement is sudden and every idea is provoking; every sign is misinterpreted; you see yourself as ridiculous and foolish. These impressions are quite strong and this is not the time for sawing wood.


AF Desportes (1661-1743) : la chasse au loup, 1742, Musée de Grenoble,


We can see very clearly from this that optimism requires a pledge. Strange as it may seem at first, one has to vow to be happy. The master’s whip has to put a stop to the dog’s howling. Finally, as a precaution, every sad thought should be reckoned a deception. This is necessary because we naturally create unhappiness once we do nothing. Boredom proves this. But what shows most clearly that our ideas are not in themselves provoking and that it’s our own restlessness that irritates us, is the happy state of somnolence where the whole body is relaxed; ; that doesn’t last; when sleep approaches like this, it is not far off. The art of sleeping, which can assist nature here, consists mainly in not wanting to half-think. Either commit yourself to thinking or not at all, from the experience that uncontrolled thoughts are all false. This energetic verdict reduces them all to the level of dreams, and prepares those happy dreams that have no thorns. On the other hand, the interpretation of dreams gives importance to everything. And that is the key to unhappiness.

P.Bonheur,  xciii, 29/9/23

English translation copyright © Michel Petheram

To read this text in French


>> To read more texts by and about Alain in English <<<

Print Friendly, PDF & Email