John Stuart Mill and Aristotle both discuss and define happiness. In Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill said that happiness is “pleasure, and the absence of pain” (Chapter 2). While in Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics, he defines happiness as “an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue” (Book I Chapter 7). Even though these works were written from completely different time periods with completely different standards, their messages have stood the test of time and can be applied to how individuals view happiness in today’s society.
Most individuals believe that true happiness requires pain, at first. Normally, individuals take a journey to get to happiness. More often than not, these journeys include suffering, pain, and loss. Today, people view hardships as an arrow that has to be pulled back in order to move forward. So, even though an individual may be suffering due to difficulties and hardships, they will eventually launch forward into happiness surpassing where they were before and, subsequently, who they were before. An individual has to go through a bad experience to realize how genuine and valuable true happiness is. This arrow journey is tiring and consuming and can vary in length of times (depending on the person), but overall the individual will become the better version of himself or herself because of this process. This arrow journey can occur occasionally or frequently depending on the person and various factors in their life.
Some arrow journeys can have rather small impacts on an individual’s life while other journeys can have a major impact on their lives. A small arrow journey can be can originate from breakups or fights; this small hardships give the individual a new perspective and the knowledge on how to deal with this type of experience. Once the individual learns the lesson, they shoot back into happiness. However, not all arrow journeys are small.
Most major arrow journeys impact individuals’ lives forever. Major arrow journeys can be trigged by severe depression or the loss of a close friend or family member. After the incident occurs, the arrow slowly stretches backwards as the individual encounters struggle after struggle; for instance, the individual could encounter struggles like having their self-esteem ripped apart or remembering a special time they had with the person who has passed away. Slowly these experiences pile up and take a toll on the individual; this process can last months or years. However, when the person feels at their absolute lowest point, suddenly, all at once and out of nowhere, they shoot forward fast and way past the point of where they started. The person has overcome their arrow journey and has become the best version of themself by gaining back their sense of dignity, which Mill states is an essential part of happiness (Chapter 2). This evolved person is now truly happy, and, with this happiness, he/she realizes that they had to endure this hardship to become a better person. Today, individuals know and believe that in the darkest times of pain and suffering comes the brightest light, happiness.
Aristotle believed that a man’s final end is happiness, which he defines as “a kind of speculation or contemplation” (Book X Chapter 8). In today’s world, most people view the contemplative life as their ultimate goal because this life signifies true happiness. Society knows that the contemplative life is a time for learning that can only be understood after the completion of the arrow journey. However, this life does not include the kind of learning that is done in school. This learning is not a cookie-cut plan and does not require memorization of facts; this learning is truly unique for every individual. However, like school learning, there are tests; but these tests challenge the individual to see if they are truly happy. Like the arrow journey, the contemplative life is equally challenging. However, nothing in life that is worth having is easy to attain.
Today, most people see individuals living in the contemplative life as confident, outgoing, and understanding. There are other qualities that make up these individuals; for instance, these individuals have a deep awareness of their identity and are not influenced by what others think of them. These individuals are constantly engaging in activities that form deep and lasting relationships that will have a positive influence on their life. They evaluate every decision they make thoroughly, and with this, they make every action purposeful. Overall, they participate in society and experience freedom, joy, and love. But, most importantly, they do not put extraneous value on materials knowing that these are only earthly possessions. And because of their journey, they now have the knowledge, patience, and desire to help others reach this contemplative life. These individuals aid others in their journeys to happiness because they want other people to be as just as happy as they are.
The contemplative life seems like it requires a great deal and is challenging. Nevertheless, true happiness is the only requirement. However, in today’s world the contemplative life seems more challenging to achieve than ever before; this is due to the fast-paced and consuming madhouse that the world has become. With the invention of the smart phones and social media, the individual is always distracted and always thinking about someone somewhere or something out there. Most people cannot stand the idea of waiting ten minutes for a cup of coffee or taking the time to thoroughly settle a fight they had with a friend. So, asking a person to take time out of their schedule and to evaluate their life and choices in order to have a better understanding of the world, sounds like hippie talk to most modern people. The majority of people today want fast and easy solutions, which makes it a struggle for most people to achieve true happiness. The journey to happiness is like hiking up a mountain carrying 200 pounds of extra weight; the process is slow and meticulous, but ultimately produces a better individual. But, in today’s world, individuals use distraction methods (i.e. never being alone or using drugs/alcohol) to “solve” their problems. These distraction methods do not produce long-term affects; they are just quick fixes to hold the person over long enough to forget the problem temporarily. Using these distraction methods is like a person saying that they have hiked up the mountain when actually they just googled it; this ideology produces individuals who do not know how to deal with their issues. Reaching the contemplative life takes time and commitment, but it is ultimately achievable.
If happiness and the contemplative life sound so incredible, then why are there not more people living this life? The fact is that most people in today’s society are not happy due to the fact that we live in a society that values appearance and possessions more than personality. The majority of people in the world are obsessed with looks, celebrities, possessions, and many other earthly goods. Women idolize celebrities that they see have a perfect body when they are actually photo-shopped, and men idolize guys that seem successful when they are actually just actors hired to play a part in a commercial. Companies sell large sums of products by essentially telling the viewers that they are not good enough. Every product uses this message from makeup companies to car companies. They tell individuals that it does not matter what you look like, what your personality is, or where you came from. But, if they buy their product, all of that could change in an instant. This message seems harsh, but consumers buy into this image every single time. This is why most people cannot be happy. Furthermore, many people begin arrow journeys because of these absurd messages that society tells viewers is normal. With individuals being constantly bombarded with scrutiny and lies, no wonder there are not more people living happy lives in contemplation.
Aristotle says that material possessions are unimportant and individuals should actually value intellect and virtue because if “a man who is thus used by fortune and comes to a miserable end [he] cannot be called happy” (Book I Chapter 9). Possessions do not make an individual happy because when that person leaves this earth, they will leave with nothing. Additionally, John Stuart Mill states the morality is the foundation of happiness (Chapter 3); therefore, by advertisements producing negative influences on individuals and gaining profits from it, the companies are pursuing their own happiness at the expense of social happiness which is not right and not moral. Society keeps telling the individual to embrace their individuality and to be happy because that is ultimately the goal. However, they are making it harder and harder for the individual to achieve true happiness and reach the contemplative life because of negativity and lies.
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