The Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson
MORAL PRINCIPLES / REFLECTIONS ON THE QUALITY OF LIFE
You ask, if I would agree to live my seventy or rather seventy-three
years over again? To which I say, yea I think with you, that it is a
good world on the whole; that it has been framed on a principle of
benevolence, and more pleasure than pain dealt out to us. There are,
indeed, (who might say nay) gloomy and. hypochondriac minds,
inhabitants of diseased bodies, disgusted with the present, and
despairing of the future; always counting that the worst will happen,
because it may happen. To these I say, how much pain have cost us the
evils which have never happened! My temperament is sanguine. I steer
my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern. My hopes, indeed,
sometimes fail; but not oftener than the forebodings of the gloomy.
There are, I acknowledge, even in the happiest life, some terrible
convulsions, heavy set-offs against the opposite page of the account.
I have often wondered for what good end the sensations of grief could
be intended. All our other passions, within proper bounds, have an
useful object. And the perfection of the moral character is, not in a
stoical apathy, so hypocritically vaunted, and so untruly too, because
impossible, but in a just equilibrium of all the passions. I wish the
pathologists then would tell us what is the use of grief in the
economy, and of what good it is the cause, proximate or remote.
to John Adams, 8 April 1816