Who or What Defines Happiness?

Happiness Green Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

Karoline Scherer. Period 5.

Happiness has always been a topic that has interested great thinkers because everyone has a different understanding of the nature and source of it. Aristotle and John Stuart Mill, both philosophers, wrote in printed works their understanding of happiness. Aristotle believes that happiness is the activity of living well by possessing all the right virtues. He goes to write about how happiness is the highest goal. John Stuart Mill, British philosopher, takes a Utilitarianism view on happiness by defining it as “intended pleasure, and the absence of pain” (Utilitarianism). Utility or the Greatest Happiness principle focuses on actions as a determinant of happiness. Two great philosophers, Aristotle and Mills, disagree on thoughts on happiness but each believes in happiness as the greatest good to obtain.

Aristotle defines happiness as the activity of living well or doing well with the use of virtues. He explains how a person who is happy in not simply enjoying life but is enjoying life by living successfully. Like Aristotle explains, happiness connects with the successes accomplished in life. For example, a person comes in power of a large position in the workplace and effectively fulfills the requirements of the job so, according to Aristotle, that person is “happy.” A person’s reputation and success can still be affected post-death so how they live their life on earth determines the happiness surrounded with the person when they are gone. In addition, in the second book, Aristotle discusses a more in depth understanding of virtues which are what people are to use to gain happiness. The heart of Aristotle’s discussion consists of both moral and intellectual virtues with which people use to act within reason. Virtues are necessary to fulfilling our proper function. Having the right virtues leads a person to follow the right path and keep them on track to the final end. He explains how these virtues and excellence must be lived out in one’s life for “a man might have virtue and yet be asleep or be inactive all of his life” which would not lead him to true happiness. Pleasure, virtues, and excellence are then ends instead of things such as wealth or honor. Both of those are means in which give us something else but not complete happiness. Virtues are a way of life in which people use them to create a life style in which they try to fulfill to the fullest.

As Aristotle progresses into his discussion, he brings up the point of happiness as the final end. Happiness is the ultimate goal of any action because there is no further goal after happiness and because the goal to every action in the end is happiness. Aristotle progresses on about the final end by defining happiness as the final end because “we always choose it for itself and never for the sake of something else” (Nicomachean). Everybody obtains honor, pleasure, virtues, etc. so for the sake of obtaining happiness. Everything we attempt to accomplish has happiness as the final good. Such as, if a person wanted to buy themselves new clothes. Their initial end would be to have a new sweater but that sweater will make them happy. Nothing is a higher end than happiness and that is why happiness is the final end.

As explained above, happiness is the final good and that good is thought to be self-sufficing. This not only includes oneself but all intermediate family and friends. Humans are naturally socially and won’t be happy if everyone around them is in a state of unhappiness. Aristotle tries to explain that happiness is that most desirable thing in the world and that by saying happiness is self-sufficing is saying that it is what makes life desirable and in want of nothing. As the most desirable thing, everything else that can be added to happiness just makes it that much greater. This just helps confirm happiness as the greatest good and the final end for humans. “Happiness is something final and self-sufficing and is the end of all that man does” (Nicomachean).

John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher in the 17th century who formulated his thoughts on utility in Utilitarianism. To Mills, utility can also be called the Greatest Happiness Principle which holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness and take away pain. Actions are wrong when they start do the opposite of happiness. Mill’s clarifies his definition of happiness with explaining how pleasure and freedom from pain are both desirable ends. Happiness is the greatest end so together they make happiness. The value of pleasure goes hand in hand with utility for no one will use a product if they receive no pleasure from it. People will remove pleasure from the picture or they make utility all about the pleasure they will obtain from it. As well, Utilitarianism states that happiness does not depend on the happiness of one person but considers all happiness together. One is benefited by not just themselves but from those around them and their happiness. This creates the ultimate end in which is “an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments” (Utilitarianism). A person needs a lot of pleasure and actual meaningful utility. The quality and quantity matter as well. Utilitarianism explains the meanings of pleasure in happiness and how everybody’s utility is acknowledged.

The Greatest Happiness Principle is a reflection of a person’s behavior and actions according to Mills. Utility is not just obtaining happiness but also makes sure there is not pain or unhappiness. People use their virtues and morals to create a sense of happiness in their lives. To be restated, happiness is determined not only by the person’s happiness but all those who affect his/hers or vice versa. Moments of pleasure and small pains are what lead to happiness. To be in a constant state joy does not bring a person to the ultimate end of happiness. There are life constituents that quality for a satisfied life and they are tranquility and excitement. Tranquility ensures that a person is content with little pleasure and excitement can build up for the peacefulness that tranquility brings.  To be calm in the aftermath of excitement or to be content wth the outcome of events creates a better chance for happiness. Being happy requires less pain and more pleasure for the small bumps in life.

Though each philosopher had different views on how happiness is obtained, the fact that it is the final end was stable throughout both of their works. Aristotle believes that everybody works at and lives their live according to obtain happiness in the end. Every good we obtain and every pleasure we strive for is small parts for the ultimate good. Mills believed that happiness was painless and was full of moments of happiness and tranquility that have the ultimate end of happiness. Each of these great thinkers believes that people’s happiness relies on their conduct, the way they use their virtues, and how they approach their lives. If one sits around all day and does nothing with virtues he has worked for then he will not be as happy as someone who is striving for something out in the world. Each person has to use their virtues and create moments in life that will build them happiness.

Aristotle and Mills each brought up points on happiness that differ from each other but still came together at the end. Each man agrees that people works to live a life of happiness, the final end. Aristotle thinks that happiness is a matter of living, not just a feeling. A person is not happy by just enjoying life but instead by living successfully. Mill’s views in Utilitarianism bring about the thoughts that happiness is built from the happiness of all people involved and the intended pleasure and absence of pain.

Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.” N.p., n.d. Print.
Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
“Notes on Nicomachean Ethics.” Notes on Nicomachean Ethics. Notre Dame, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2012.
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