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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 his real difficulties and inconveniences; or if we hear his complaint, we do not feel his 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 judgment 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
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 humor; 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 others' 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 laborer 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 coddition 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 judgment 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 possess beyond or above others. A blessing is in reality not the less valuable because others possess it as well as ourselves; and yet it requires some generosity of temper to see this. It is for the want or defect of this temper that the love of God obtains so little in the heart of man; that there is so much less gratitude towards him than might be expected from reasonable creatures to such a benefactor. Health and liberty, the perfect enjoyment of our limbs and reason, the use of our understanding and the faculties of our mind, are blessings beyond all price; yet because others possess them as well as ourselves, because they are only common to us with almost every man we meet, they are seldom in our thoughts, seldom subjects either of satisfaction to ourselves, or of gratitude to God. Not one man in ten reflects from whom he receives these blessings, or continues to receive them. If we are not indulged with riches and honors, and high stations, with the means and knowledge of luxury and show ; unless we are distinguished by those favors which, from the nature of them, must be confined to a few, we can see nothing in our own condition to be thankful for. Could this narrowness of mind be once so far got rid of, as to allow us to estimate the blessings we enjoy according as they are in themselves, and not by the comparison with others, there are few who might not find enough in their condition to excite sentiments of complacency and content, certainly of gratitude towards God.
Discontent, considered in a religious view, besides that it indisposes us for the duties of our station, by making us lazy or careless about them, besides that it sometimes puts men upon advancing themselves by unjust or forcible means, is utterly inconsistent with a religious temper of mind. It destroys, as we have already said, the love and gratitude we owe to God. It is not to be expected that men should be, nor is it found in fact that they are, capable of much affection towards God, whilst they are discontented with the condition in which he has placed them. When we confer favors, if, instead of observing satisfaction and gratitude in the person obliged, we meet with nothing but impatience, complaint, and discontent, we are naturally and justly offended with such obstinacy of temper; nor do I know any reason why the same temper should not be offensive to God, especially when it is considered that the fa
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vors we are able to confer upon one another bear no proportion to those which God has bestowed upon us all.
Discontent, again, argues too great a fondness for the world and for the concerns and advantages of it; a fondness, I mean, greater than is consistent with our expectations and pursuits of a better. Were this world a man's all, it would be difficult to offer any considerations that could abate his passion for it, alleviate his disappointment, or soothe his complaints ; but when another, and a better existence, and of longer duration, is held out to us, such a prospect is calculated, one would think, to moderate our attachment to the present, and our solicitude and concern about it. The differences and distinctions of human life, which so much affect and perplex us, when placed beside this great object, appear what they are, too diminutive to provoke our jealousy or discontent. For these two reasons, contentment in us Christians appears to be our duty as well as our happiness, and as such, is enjoined by St Paul; 'having food and raiment,' he writes to Timothy, let us be therewith content;' and to the Hebrews he commands, .be content with such things as ye have.' But above all precepts does he recommend this virtue by his own example; I have learnt,' says he, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; every where, and in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.' There is something very great and affecting in these words, and quite of a piece with that fortitude and firmness of mind which distinguished St Paul's character upon all occasions.
From what has been said, then, it appears that when we repine at our own condition, and covet other men's, we, for the most part, impose upon ourselves; that we are the dupes of a delusion, natural enough, no doubt, but of which a proper exertion of judgment and reflection will get the better, that when we indulge this fretful, discontented, dissatisfied humor, we cherish a narrowmindedness, which overlooks the many great blessings we enjoy, because in cominon perhaps with most others, in order to torment ourselves with the thought of some fewer, some single advantage which is denied to us; this frame of mind is both extremely unfavorable to all sense of affection and gratitude to God Almighty, and also too much binds down our souls to this world, and prevents any due preparation for, and progress to another.
2 SAMUEL XVII. 23.
And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his
ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.
The crime of suicide prevailing amongst us beyond the example of any other christian age or country, and the lawfulness of it being maintained, as it is said, by many, it becomes high time to look into the question, to see whether this practice is, or is not forbidden to the christian moralist.
I set out with observing, that to those who regard death as the termination of their being, this question becomes a mere computation of interest, a single comparison of the evils of life with its advantages; and according as one or the other shall appear to preponderate, a wise man will relinquish his existence or preserve it. In which estimate, however, we shall do well to remember that the prospect of many evils is worse than the presence; that though circumstances change not, we shall; that time may dissolve those associations which torment us ; that habit accommodates the temper to every variety of situation, and, as the dilated eye discovers glimmerings of light amidst the thickest darkness, so the mind inured to misfortune finds alleviation and comfort in the most desperate condition.
But to those who look for a future day of retribution and account, the lawfulness of suicide becomes a question of a very different nature. The selfmurderer, though he fears not him that killeth the body, and after that can do no more, has the same reason with others to fear Him who casteth soul and body into hell fire. And here I would premise, but without the least distrust of my argument, that should the guilt of suicide turn out at last to be a matter of doubt only, we are bound by that very doubt to abstain from it. There can be no question but that we may, if we will, lawfully continue in existence; there is a question whether we may lawfully quit it. It is a contempt of authority to incur even the danger of disobedience, when a safe and certain choice is in our power. Besides that, the action in this case would want that entire acquiescence and