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ever he sees others possess; yet where discontent proceeds, as it sometimes does, from mistaken notions of the happiness and misery of different conditions, a little just reasoning and consideration may help to cure it.
Now what deceives most men in comparing their own situation with that of others, is this; that they are perfectly sensible of their own cares, their griefs and difficulties, the hardships and inconveniences of their own situation, and know little or nothing of those of others. A man's happiness or misery, so far, I mean, as it is affected by outward condition, depends almost always upon invisible circumstances secret particulars which others are not acquainted with, and never suspect. Few can truly estimate the real circumstances in the condition of others, the evils and inconveniences they suffer; nor if they do, will they trouble themselves to confess what they believe.
Besides, evils are never known till they are passed; that is, there is such a difference between our judgement of the evils which we experience, and those which we are only told of, that the smallest of our own sufferings seems to outweigh the greatest we observe in others. Add to this, that such is also the infirmity or the perverseness of the human mind, that pain of all kind makes a much greater impression than pleasure-inconveniences than advantages the irksome part of a man's condition, than the benefits and privileges of it. So that when we come to reflect on our own situation, the evil of it is
always uppermost. Instead of taking the good and the bad together, and fairly balancing both sides of the account, we dwell, for example, upon the fatigue, or the confinement, or the humiliation, or the indigence, or other disadvantages of our condition, which are remembered distinctly, and with all their aggravations; whilst the comfort and advantages, the peace, quietness, and security and independence, the freedom from care and from danger, and many substantial blessings we enjoy, we either forget, or overlook as familiar and inconsiderable, and so miss the common benefit of every situation. Discontent, then, in fact is delusion. We see nothing but the outside, and fair side, of a man's condition; we see not the secret of the real difficulties and inconveniences; or if we hear their complaint, we do not feel their sufferings: whereas our own situation is understood to the bottom, the evils and hardships of it are all found out; and not only so, but these evils and hardships perpetually return upon our thoughts, whilst the comforts which should balance them are left out of the comparison. With such prejudices, it is no wonder we form very false computations, and are betrayed, without reason, into complaint and injustice; into a dislike of our own condition, and envy of other men's-into a restlessness and discontent, which confine our merit and damp our activity, and make us both uneasy in our condition and useless. That there is some very great deception in men's judgement of one another's
happiness, and one another's station in life, is probable from two facts, which all moralists of all ages have taken notice of; one is, that the man who is discontented in one situation is generally discontented in every other. This is a fair experiment-Suppose a man who is dissatisfied with his condition to be able to change it. Suppose him, if you will, advanced to the very station he coveted, and would have carved out for himself; if you find this man from thenceforward easy and satisfied, his former uneasiness and impatience were not without foundation; if, on the other hand, you find, that after the novelty of the change, and the first triumph of success is over, the man returns to his wonted ill-humour-that his discontent continues, though the subject of it be altered—that new causes produce new complaints -that he still murmurs and still repines ;-if this be the case, it is a reasonable conclusion that the man was originally wrong in his calculation-deceived in his estimation of the happiness of a condition which he had not tried. And this so often is the case, that it furnishes good reason to suppose, that such deceptions are extremely common. The greater part of mankind get nothing by a change, but to regret advantages which they despised, or did not even perceive, whilst they possessed them; and to discover new sources of anxiety and complaint.
Another fact of the same kind, and which I mention for the same purpose, is that the envy of mankind is commonly mutual; I mean, that you shall
meet with twenty persons who all envy the other's condition. Now they cannot all be right. The greatest part must necessarily be under a delusion, when they judge of their neighbour's happiness. This mutual envy is to be found amongst all orders and professions. The poor man envies the plenty, the appearance, and accommodation of the rich; and sees them with envy, because he sees nothing else. He compares them with the fatigue he undergoes, with the scanty provision which his own condition affords. The pains and pressure of his own distress he feels, and can therefore judge of them; the delight and pleasure of his rich neighbour's luxury he only imagines; and ten to one he is deceived in his imagination, because he places to the account the pleasure that he himself should receive from it, which is very different from what the possessor actually receives. The rich man, in return, when he observes the health and activity, the cheerful countenance and vigorous spirits of the labourer whom he employs, his continual occupation and sound rest, and compares it with his own languor and listlessness; when he reflects how burthensome his time and thoughts are, when he reflects upon his tedious days and wakeful nights-when he takes this view of his own condition, he repines at the superior lot of those whose humble but active station supplies them with employment, and exempts them from care.
Stations of peril and enterprise are generally envied by those who are tired with the slow progress
of their fortunes; while such men, in their turn, regret the situations they have left, or lament that they ever exchanged the plain path of patient industry for scenes of adventure and uncertainty. And all such mutual discontents are governed by the same mistake—each man forgets his own advantages, and magnifies those of others: each party is impatient under his own sufferings, and ignorant of those of his neighbours. Generally speaking, we cannot employ our time or thoughts worse than in comparing our own condition with that of others. For the most part, the fewer of these comparisons we make, the better. Indeed, when the mind is in health, as we may say, when the spirits and temper are properly composed, we seldom concern ourselves with them at all; yet if we will make such comparisons, it is of consequence that we make them truly. This we can never do, till we learn to allow a great deal for the intimate knowledge we have of our own condition, and the imperfect judgement we can form of other men's-for there is a wide difference between observing an evil or inconvenience in others, and coming actually to experience it ourselves and lastly, for our imperfect enjoyment of pleasures which are new and unexperienced.
Secondly; the best remedy for discontent is, to learn to attend to those blessings which we enjoy in common perhaps with the rest, or with the generality of mankind-instead of looking for other exclusive or particular privileges which some men