Kelsey Korman – Period 4
Happiness. Overrated at times, underplayed at others; but what does it mean when a person says their happy? Are they feeling elated; revived; positive? Did they have a good day at school, work, or with friends? Happiness is so often described by these rather simple synonyms and events. But what exactly is happiness and how can we attain it? Some people can say they’re happy because they got an A on their test, while others can say they’re happy because the cute boy in English class waved at them. Aristotle says, “Happiness is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does” (Nicomachean Ethics). To Aristotle, happiness is more than just an emotional state. It is the only thing we chose to have for itself, not in order gain something else. Aristotle believes that happiness is the highest good and ultimately, our final end. We must live well and do well in order to achieve this goal. However, if happiness if our final end, then what can we do to achieve this crucial mean?
Now, if you are a lazy person like me, you can skip to the last paragraph of this article to get a brief summary of this blog post. If, however, you are interested in the details, I encourage you to continuing reading how exactly music plays a part in Aristotle’s idea of happiness.
Many people debate on what makes a person happy or live a good life. For example, someone might say they enjoy eating hamburgers every day, which makes them a happier person. However, eating hamburgers every day is unhealthy for the human body. The person could become sick, obese, or eventually die from lack of healthy eating, all because they believed eating hamburgers every day made them happier. But as it is clearly seen, eating hamburgers every day did not lead this person to their final end; thus, it did not make them truly happy. In Greek, the word happiness is “eudaimonia” which translates to “success” or “thriving”. This drives Aristotle’s point home. Happiness is not an emotion, but an action. If we are living successful lives, we are on the path to reach our final end, ultimately reaching happiness. “Happiness waits only for those who go out and seize it” (SparkNotes).
Yet, nobody has ever connected our final end (happiness) with music. Music is universal, popular, and liked by almost everyone. So how is it linked to happiness? Studies show that our brains are wired to understand and react to music. Happy, upbeat music cause a person’s breath to increase, which scientists point out, is a sign of happiness. Not only does music make a person happy, but “has been found to boost the immune systems of patients after surgeries, lower stress in pregnant women, and decrease the blood pressure and heart rate in cardiac patients” (HowStuffWorks ). All of this talk about music and happiness references it through an emotional state. Yet, Aristotle’s whole point of happiness is taking action and reaching your final end. So how does music play into Aristotle’s theory of happiness?
Studies also show that live music almost forces people to become socially connected. This is a whole new topic in itself. Aristotle believes that a person cannot function without a polis, or what we call, a state. He defines a state as “a body of citizens sufficing for the purposes of life” (The Politics). In Aristotle’s eyes, we cannot live by ourselves, but among others in order to live more naturally. But it does not stop there. Aristotle goes on to say “A state exists for the sake of a good life, and not for the sake of a life only” (The Politics). So not only does living with other people feel more natural, but it makes our lives good. And what is the greatest good we can achieve? Our final end. What does this final end entail? Ultimate happiness. And just to think, this whole process s started by the simple act of listening to music.
Music is also known for making a positive influence on a person’s life, causing them to make better decisions. One study found that when we listen to tunes that are moving, “[our] brain releases dopamine, a chemical involved in both motivation and addiction” (Discovery News). This motivation caused by our brain’s chemical release helps us make good decisions. These good decisions can turn into our beliefs, which can then turn into virtues. Aristotle believes virtue “has to deal with feelings or passions and with outward acts” (The Nicomachean Ethics). Overall, virtue is moderation. We must find the mean between good and evil in our life in order to live a virtuous life. Music can help us find this balance, which defines virtue. By being able to make more positive, balanced choices in our lives, we can become more successful. Aristotle also suggests that “[Man] takes pleasure in noble deeds” (The Nicomachean Ethics). Virtue essentially helps us to find the balance within our choices to commit these noble acts. Obviously, committing these noble acts help us to live out our full potential. So, if we listen to music, we are more likely to not only make better decisions in our lives, but also partake in noble deeds, which therefore help us to live our lives with accomplishments. In turn, our thriving lives lead us toward our final end; true happiness.
Aristotle points out another key factor: contemplation. “The more contemplation the more happiness is there in life” (The Nicomachean Ethics). Music makes us think. Today, so many songs ask us to consider questions or problems we may have never thought about before. This opens our eyes to the world around us and causes us to contemplate on our words and actions. In return, we make better decisions that will further our path towards our final end. However, here comes the tricky part. Aristotle also states that contemplation is the final end. But how can this be? This whole time, haven’t we been establishing that happiness is our final end that we can find through music? By reaching our end goal, we have reached contemplation, the highest good. Aristotle believes that everything has an end goal, or a telos. As humans, it is in our nature to think rationally. Because of this, “the exercise of our rational powers is our telos, the highest good we can achieve” (SparkNotes). Of our rational powers, this includes wisdom, which lies in contemplation. Where can we attain wisdom? It has been statistically proven that listening to classical music makes the brain smart, therefore, gaining in its path of development, wisdom. With wisdom, we can make wiser decisions which lead us to our telos, a life of contemplation. A life of contemplation equals a happy life, which equals our end goal. Yet again, we have come full circle to see that music makes us ultimately happy.
So what’s the point of the article, you may ask? Is it to understand the benefit that music plays in our lives? Or is it written just so a student can complete an assignment to pass her Senior Economics class? Well, both really, but definitely aimed more at the first.
So, to summarize, Aristotle’s happiness is achieved through living out a successful life. Without a state, we cannot attain a good and successful life and in order to further our accomplishments, we must be virtuous and enjoy engaging in noble actions. Thinking rationally, we attain wisdom, which leads us to a life of contemplation, known as our telos. By reaching our telos (our life of contemplation), we have achieved ultimate, true happiness. Music encourages us to become socially active, which allows us to live peacefully within a state. It also acts as a positive influence, encouraging and motivating us to balance our lives in virtue. Lastly, music causes us to reflect and think rationally, guiding us to the contemplative life.
In some way, whether we notice it or not, music makes us happy. So the next time you are listening to music, maybe you will stop and think about the affect it has played in your life. Because for me, I could never live without it.
Aristotle. Aristotle’s Politics. New York: Modern Library, 1943. Print.
Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. London: W. Heinemann, 1934. Print.
Edmonds, Molly. “Is There a Link between Music and Happiness?” HowStuffWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 07
“Nicomachean Ethics.” SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 07 May 2013.
Sohn, Emily. “Why Music Makes You Happy.” Discovery News. N.p., 10 Jan. 2011. Web. 07 May 2013.
Photo Citation: “SUPAFLY.” Tumblr. N.p., 2012. Web. 08 May 2013.