“Running Away From Life” is a short story by Arnold Bennett that follows the main character, Peter Anderson, who has been arrested for debt and sentenced to three years of hard labor. He works under an overseer named Macgregor until he escapes from New Zealand in 1873. His new life on the other hand does not bring him happiness as his wife was killed during childbirth four months ago and he feels depressed because people keep telling him what a lucky man he is for getting off so easily when others are still suffering imprisonment due to their crimes
“I’m Trying to Get Away From Life” Self and Self-management: Essays on Existing (Self and Self-management: Essays on Existing, 1918) Bennett, Arnold
Taking shelter from life is a kind of denial. Life typically provides enough latitude for a man’s or woman’s leading instinct, and it occasionally does so at a very cheap cost, if not at all.
For example, a young man may have a strong aptitude for engineering, and his father may be a well-known and affluent engineer who is eager for his son to follow in his footsteps. Life has provided the opportunity at no cost to me.
However, a guy may have a strong desire to write, and his father may be a well-known and affluent engineer who, believing that writing is an idiotic and horrible career, has resolved that his son will be an engineer rather than an author. “Become an engineer,” the father advises, “and I will provide you with one-of-a-kind assistance, and you will be a made man.” If you want to be an author, you’ll receive nothing but hostility from me.”
Life, on the other hand, which has given us the desire to write, has also given us the opportunity to do so. On two continents, the opportunities for young writers are now greater than they have ever been. However, the cost, which in this instance is life quotes, is quite high. The young guy thinks for a moment. Comfort, parental acceptance, household tranquility, money, luxury, and maybe a pleasant and not dissatisfied marriage are all included in the price. It contains almost all of the components of the well-known happiness concoction. Of course, by studying literature, the young man may be able to recoup his whole investment. But it’s equally possible that he won’t. He has a one-in-a-hundred probability of not succeeding. He is putting practically everything on the line in order to purchase a lottery ticket.
Let’s imagine he refuses to ask for a lottery ticket since he is a responsible and dutiful young man. His love of literature hasn’t progressed far enough; he abandons it to pursue a career as an engineer. He becomes a very fair engineer, the prop of the enterprise, the assistance, and eventually the successor, of his father, through industry, kindness, and innate intelligence. He is considerate to his coworkers. He marries a lovely young lady and treats her nicely. He has a wonderful family. He is a huge success in the world and a role model for his fellow species. All of his friends talk about that man’s devotion to duty, his selflessness, and his genuine compassion. He regards his conscience with the utmost reverence.
And yet, even if his desire for literature was genuine, he is not fundamentally content, and whenever he has the opportunity to meet an author, read about authors (including their suicides in despair), or be deeply moved by a book, he is acutely aware that he has committed the sin of seeking refuge from life; he understands that the extraordinary respect he pays to his conscience is, at bottom, a doping of that organ; he perceives that the smooth path is, in fact, the There is nothing that can be done; there is no cure for the poison; the dope is a drug—and inadequate at that…
Both men and women may flee life in considerably more subtle and less severe ways than the ones I’ve mentioned. For clarity’s sake, I’ve limited myself to quite rudimentary and obvious instances of flying. Few of us are likely to be unaware of having turned down at least one modest existential challenge. And there are even fewer of us who can claim to have been continuously excessively bold in our quest for the full flavor of life.
Each person must establish his or her own definition of happiness. I, for one, have ruled out almost all dictionary definitions. The main meaning of the phrase is “good fortune” or “prosperity,” according to most dictionaries. This is a well-known example of absurdity. Then there’s “a state of well-being marked by relative persistence, dominantly pleasurable feeling… and a natural desire for its continuance,” according to one description. This final one comes from Webster, and it’s a great one. But I’m not having it until I’m permitted to define “well-being” in my own words.
An person cannot be in a condition of well-being, in my opinion, if any of his abilities are permanently inactive due to his own fault. The full use of all of one’s abilities seems to me to be the cornerstone of happiness. But I doubt that making full use of all of one’s faculties entails the notion of good fortune, prosperity, peace, or contentment with one’s lot, or even a “dominantly pleasing mood”; it often entails the opposite.
Happiness, in my opinion, mostly refers to “satisfaction after a complete and honest effort.” Everyone has made mistakes, both little and major, and the consideration of these errors must darken, if only a bit, the latter years of life. However, it does not have to be deadly to overall enjoyment. Men and women could eventually have to acknowledge, “I made a fool of myself,” and yet be content. But no one can be content, and hence no one can be happy, if he believes that he has failed to meet the challenge of life in any significant way. For a voice inside him, which no one else can hear but which he can’t silence, will be mumbling constantly:
“You lacked bravery.” You lacked the courage. “You bolted.”
And it’s preferable to be miserable in the usual sense for the rest of one’s life than to have to listen to that horrible inward judgement at the end.