I am reading Russ Robert’s new book How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness and it is quite informative. Roberts is an economist at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and he delved into Smith’s less famous book to gain insight into life and human nature and shares it with readers in simple, straightforward style:
Adam Smith may have become the patron saint of capitalism after he penned his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations. But few people know that when it came to the behavior of individuals—the way we perceive ourselves, the way we treat others, and the decisions we make in pursuit of happiness—the Scottish philosopher had just as much to say. He developed his ideas on human nature in an epic, sprawling work titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Most economists have never read it, and for most of his life, Russ Roberts was no exception. But when he finally picked up the book by the founder of his field, he realized he’d stumbled upon what might be the greatest self-help book that almost no one has read.
In How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, Roberts examines Smith’s forgotten masterpiece, and finds a treasure trove of timeless, practical wisdom. Smith’s insights into human nature are just as relevant today as they were three hundred years ago. What does it take to be truly happy? Should we pursue fame and fortune or the respect of our friends and family? How can we make the world a better place? Smith’s unexpected answers, framed within the rich context of current events, literature, history, and pop culture, are at once profound, counterintuitive, and highly entertaining.
By reinvigorating Smith’s neglected classic, Roberts provides us with an invaluable look at human behavior through the lens of one of history’s greatest minds.
I was most interested in the sections on being “loved and being lovely.” Smith says “Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely.” The author interprets this quote as “Smith means that we want people to like us, respect us, and care about us and take us seriously. We want them to want our presence, to enjoy our company.”
Smith also says that we dread being hated and hateful. Perhaps this explains why people are so afraid when it comes to politics. If you have the wrong political bent these days, you are seen as hateful and hated. Most people don’t seem to be able to tolerate being hated. Being hated is no fun, but pretending to go along with the PC crowd that is ruining our country has to be worse. Smith believes that true happiness comes when we earn the admiration of others honestly “by being respectable, honorable, blameless, generous, and kind.”
Yet how can you be those things in a society that does not value these traits? Our society rewards extroversion, hypocrisy, political correctness at all costs, and phony fads. How can one be genuine, authentic, and truly kind in today’s world? To do so is often to be hated, something Smith says that we dread. Is being hated that awful? Maybe we need people in this society who are strong enough to be hated in order to make significant positive changes in politics and society.