“Some Passions Can Be Indulged to Almost Any Extreme…Others Cannot.”

“All our separate tastes and desires have to fit into the general framework of life. If they are to be a source of happiness they must be compatible with health, with the affection of those whom we love, and with the respect of the society in which we live. Some passions can be indulged to almost any extreme without passing beyond these limits, others cannot.”

Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

How about you? Do you find that some of your passions can be indulged to almost any extreme (reading) but others can’t (gambling)? Obviously, this observation has tremendous relevance to our habits.

Russell proposes what sounds like a good test for a habit: a habit should be compatible with my health, with the affection of my friends and family, and the respect of my community. Does that cover everything, do you think?

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  • Penelope Schmitt

    Interesting that Russell’s formulation wants to preserve affection in his family and respect from his community–in other words he wanted to behave in such a way as not to suffer ill consequences HIMSELF. Wasn’t he something of a philanderer? I would say that maintaining one’s own INTEGRITY was more the issue here and maintaining one’s ability to bask in the affection and respect of others a little less important!

    • syrec

      I agree, and saw someone else very, very self-centred, post this on Facebook and laughed and thought that the quote should read, unselfishly, a habit should be compatible with my health, with the affection FOR my friends and family, and the respect FOR my community.

      • Penelope Schmitt

        Great re-formulation! I think this is a classic ‘do as I say, not as I do’ statement from Russell. I checked my assumption–he did have four marriages and numerous extramarital affairs, and a great deal of family turmoil. I expect there is some regret embodied in what he says. I think your way of re-stating this makes it a viable and admirable way to look at the way you go about indulging your passions.

  • Debra

    Interesting, but sometimes one’s goals are in opposition to others’ goals and opinions. I know someone who has been powerfully working towards a weight loss and fitness goal. Her immediate family support her but her wider family can be quite sabotaging. So her passion meets some of the criteria but not all, depending on where you draw the boundary of “those whom you love”. Nevertheless I think it’s true that some passions can be indulged with more acceptance or even encouragement, which things they are depend on your “group”. I had some examples but realised they depended on who you hung out with eg drug use isn’t acceptable to me and my family but it is acceptable, even expected, in some groups.

  • BKF

    It depends on the context the habit is being exercised in, too. I could imagine a parent being so lost in reading that they fail to engage with their kids or worse, fail to adequately supervise a toddler in a pool. In this last case, the habit is, sadly, not consistent with the health of the family.

    I had a colleague once who played the piano beautifully. His wife told me that a neighbour called the police because their two-year old had wandered out into the streets while the father was lost in his own performance (and the mother was at work.) This is a true story!

  • kiki

    I’d say a habit or hobby needs to be compatible with your income above many other considerations. Debt is a huge burden mentally and even physically and because finances are such a controversial thing to bring up, debt from an expensive hobby or habit could add up quickly before those close to you or those in your community could intervene. Balance as always is the key.

  • Balanced lives make happy people. Finding balance is something I struggle with in most aspects of my life. We live, in America, in the land of excess and it is easy to be excessive in one regard or another, therefore throwing our lives out of balance. I think maybe practicing balance should be my new habit? Working on that one.

    • I agree. For me, the tricky part is intuiting when I’m spending more time engaging in a particular activity because I’m passionate about it in a healthy way–and the time I spend on it is energizing–as opposed to spending time doing something because I’m avoiding other parts of my life. Definitely about balance, and yet, balance can manifest itself in many ways. What is balanced for one person may not be so for another, or what is balanced at one time in my life may be unbalanced at another time.

  • youonlylawonce

    Yeah, I always agree that things should be done with balance (and voted up some entries below). But say if I had one hour to do something in which I didn’t risk missing a deadline or blowing out my budget, what would be something I would like to do for the ENTIRE hour? Probably the following: blogging, playing video games, going on a walk. Probably eating cookies for the entire hour would not be advisable.

    • Jennifer Thompson

      I had never thought about eating cookies for a whole hour. That was a happy thought! Even though I would not do it or advise it either. Thank you for the happy thought 🙂

      • youonlylawonce

        Thank you for your compliment! I once ate cookies for a whole hour though not continuously. It was the first time I made molasses spice cookies… HOORAY!

  • Jennifer Thompson

    One of my motto’s is “Everything in moderation. Even too much of a good thing can be bad.” Even reading too much can be unhealthy, which I’m an avid reader, so I have to limit myself otherwise, I wouldn’t get much else done. I agree with Laura, we need balanced lives.

  • phoenix1920

    I don’t really agree that it must be compatible with the respect of society. There are so many things over history that society has frowned upon. A woman with a passion to secure the rights for women to vote or a woman pursing a passion of law in 1952–not looked upon favorably by society.

    It must also comport with your life’s dreams that you have not yet achieved. I have many friends from school that became lawyers because justice is a passion for them and they loved the success of their careers. But now, 16 years after graduation, some are looking around, surprised because time deceived them, slipping out through the window without whisper.

    Passion is likened to a fire–I think it is the temperature of the fire that is more important to happiness. A passion that smolders is one that brings warmth and happiness; a passion that runs like wildfire scorches all in its path. I have had to give up may of my passions because I cannot tame them enough. Once my mind is taken, it revolves around that thought constantly. I gave up reading fiction most of the time because when I get hooked by a book, it is hard to turn my mind from its story. I will stay up all night, reading. Or if I start a book that I must put it down, my mind is still caught in its trap, plotting to see how I can disengage with other obligations as quickly as possible so I can return to that which stole my sanity.

  • Mary Whichard Crow

    Thought provoking! In my coaching practice, Passion + Persistence, I have found that when our passions are aligned with our true purpose, we are happiest. http://bit.ly/1hsbtUG

  • Leslie Rieger

    I would agree that a habit should be compatible with your health, but the second and third criteria make me very uncomfortable. I think it’s good to consider how your habits affect other people in your life – friends, family, and community – and if those habits cause harm to other people they should certainly be abandoned. But if you have a habit that makes you happy, and doesn’t harm anyone, why give it up just because some other person disrespects you for it?