This week we celebrate International Happiness Day. More learned commentators will be able to guide us on how to achieve happiness but does Austen have something to contribute? Not only does reading her six novels delight but within the subtext there are some lessons on happiness. Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Bennet is a case in point; he knows how to live contently despite a plethora of problems and a nightmare wife! Jane Austen’s authorial voice can be heard in summing up Mr Bennet’s principle: “where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given”.
Mr Bennet does not give way to mental meanderings typical of his wife. Upon returning from London unable to find his recalcitrant daughter he “had all the appearance of philosophic composure”. Elizabeth and Jane feel for him but he will not give way to feeling sorry for himself; he says, “It has been my own doing and I ought to feel it.” But that does not mean that he will lose perspective and will suffer forever. Instead within a few moments he makes a joke that not all in the family can laugh at but is funny just the same, “No officer is ever to enter my house again, nor even to pass through the village”. Life’s troubles are such fodder for humour that our seasoned comedic performers know so well. And the ability to laugh in the midst of the everyday type of troubles shows us a key to happiness indeed. And Mr Bennet says, “I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough”. He knows bad times don’t last forever. He has not the disposition for staying discontented and depressed, unlike his wife who has made it into an art form. Mr Bennet displays some skills on how to cope with difficulty and to find happiness in the midst of the daily grind.