Brandy Dunham, P. 2 Econ, Honorbound
Many ideas have traveled down from the time of Aristotle, but the view of happiness today is slightly different than Aristotle’s view of happiness. Before going into detail on how today’s view of happiness has changed from Aristotle’s view of happiness, it is essential to define happiness to Aristotle.
Aristotle defined happiness as, “a certain kind of exercise of the vital faculties in accordance with excellence or virtue. And of the remaining goods [other than happiness itself], some must be present as necessary conditions, while others are aids and useful instruments to happiness.” From this definition, it is easy to conclude that to Aristotle the final good of man is to find happiness because it is that which all man seeks and is sought for itself and not as a means to something else.
Aristotle points out that “[the masses] take [happiness] to be something palpable and plain.” This quote establishes a few key points. One, that the masses view of happiness is different than Aristotle’s view of happiness because he distinguishes the masses specifically. Two, that the masses believe that happiness is something a person can physically attain and touch. Also, Aristotle goes on to say, “same man is of different minds at different times.” This means that although a man at one moment might think one object will bring him happiness, the same man in different circumstances will think that a different object will bring him happiness.
Next, Aristotle says, “ philosophers, on the other hand, have thought that, beside these several good things, there is an ‘absolute’ good which is the cause of their goodness.” This furthers the point that Aristotle distinguishes himself from the masses and shows that there is a good that is greater than any other good.
Aristotle concludes that the greater good must be the function of man because once man has fulfilled his function; there is nothing left for man to do. Aristotle searches through many different possibilities for what this good might be. Aristotle says that the greater good must be peculiar to man, and self-sufficing meaning “what by itself makes life desirable and in want of nothing.” Aristotle finally reaches the conclusion that the function of man is the “exercise of his faculties in accordance with excellence or virtue, or, if there be more than one, in accordance with the best and most complete virtue.”
Now that Aristotle has defined what exactly the function of man is, it is necessary to now analyze what exactly will help lead man to this final end allowing man to fully attain happiness.
Aristotle believes that to attain happiness, man does need external goods which is evident when Aristotle writes, “happiness plainly requires external goods too, as we said; for it is impossible, or at least not easy, to act nobly without some furniture of fortune.” Although Aristotle does acknowledge that man needs external goods to attain happiness, he does not believe that man needs an excess of goods to find happiness, instead man just needs true riches to cover the essentials.
Aristotle analyzes the money-making life to see if living this life could lead a person to happiness. After analyzing the life of money-making, Aristotle concludes that “wealth evidently is not the good of which we are in search, for it is merely useful as a means to something else” and says that this life is “contrary to nature.” These quotes suggest that this life could not lead man to happiness because as Aristotle has already said, the final good must be sought for itself and not as a means to anything else. This also shows how Aristotle thinks even though man does need some external goods simply to live and be able to act nobly, man does not need an excess of riches and does not need to dedicate his whole life to making money.
Aristotle finally reaches the conclusion that the life that leads to happiness is the contemplative life. Aristotle says that “this exercise of faculty must be the highest possible; for the reason is the highest of our faculties, and of all knowable things those that reason deals with are the highest.” Aristotle also says, “it would seem that this life alone is desired solely for its own sake; for it yields no result beyond the contemplation, but from the practical activities we get something more or less besides action.” All of these statements describe why Aristotle believed that the contemplative life is the life that will eventually lead man to his true happiness.
Now that Aristotle’s definition of happiness has been covered sufficiently, it is possible to redefine happiness in today’s terms. Before defining happiness, it is vital to specify that there is no set definition for happiness that sufficiently covers everyone’s ideas about what happiness is, but that many can at least connect with this understanding of happiness.
A good place to start in the process of defining happiness is to look at a dictionaries definition of happiness. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines happiness as, “1: obsolete: good fortune: prosperity, 2a: a state of well-being and contentment: joy, 2b: a pleasurable or satisfying experience, 3: felicity, aptness” (“Happiness”). This definition allows happiness to be something tangible and related to money, feelings, and experiences. Through this definition, happiness could be a tremendous amount of different things so it is vital to narrow down this definition.
Another step to define happiness is to look at what many randomly selected people think happiness is. Andrew Shapter, a writer for Huffington Post asked 100 different people what they think happiness means. One person defined happiness as “having a job in this crappy economy,” another says it is “having three dogs,” and then another says it is “being out of debt” (Shapter). Through this article and the answers from the 100 different people, it is easy to see that happiness is different to everyone, but that everyone thinks that happiness is possible to attain. This is important because it illustrates that everyone wants happiness and shows that it is possible for everyone to attain it, but that the means to attaining it are different for everyone.
Another definition of happiness comes from Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology researcher. Sonja defines happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile” (“What is Happiness?”). This shows the difference between today’s view of happiness and Aristotle’s view of happiness because Aristotle thought that happiness is only known after someone is alive, but today it is generally believed that happiness can be obtained during life and that one can easily gain and lose happiness based on these factors.
Although all of these definitions of happiness are different, the majority of definitions in today’s society related to happiness generally associate happiness with money or monetary goods. This fact is seen in a poll at the University of Connecticut and Hartford Courant which surveyed 1,006 randomly selected adults. This poll concluded that “Seventy-one percent of respondents who earn $100,000 a year or more reported feeling either completely happy or very happy with their lives, while only 60 percent of those making $60,000 to $100,000 felt the same” another fact derived from this poll is “49 percent of people making less than $60,000 reported feeling completely or very happy” another fact from this poll is “sixty-eight percent of homeowners said they were happy with their lives, compared to 47 percent of renters” and finally, “58 percent of people with jobs said they are happy, compared to 47 percent of unemployed” (“Poll: Money Plays a Role in Happiness”). These statistics show that the people make a connection between money and happiness.
Due to the fact that people connect material goods and money with happiness, it is easy to understand how many citizens go into debt. If people think that objects will bring them happiness, they are more likely to go into debt to buy them than they would be if they did not think that the objects would bring them closer to attaining happiness? For this reason, many people find themselves in debt. Granted, some people do go into debt to attain reasonable things, such as houses and education, but the majority of debt is because people buy frivolous items that are not necessary to his or her well-being. One Bringham Young University researcher says that “debt cycle starts when you begin to outspend your income for one of many different reasons—ignorance, carelessness, compulsiveness, pride, or necessity” (“Understand the Debt Cycle”).
With this understanding that debt connects with people in today’s society and people’s views of happiness, it is very interesting to look at facts about debt. These facts help further the connection between happiness and money. One fact states that “Americans are carrying a grand total of $798 billion in credit card debt.” Another fact says that “one out of every seven Americans has at least 10 credit cards” (Snyder). All of these facts show that Americans put an emphasis on monetary items even though they cannot necessarily afford the items. Why would Americans put an emphasis on monetary items unless they believed that it would lead them closer to attaining happiness?
Now that we have defined happiness to Aristotle and defined happiness to today’s society, it is easy to see how they differ. Although the views do not differ entirely, it is important to see that they do in fact differ. The views are alike because they both say that happiness is the final good meaning happiness is sought for itself and for nothing else, but the views differ because in Aristotle’s view, man only needs true riches meaning he only needs enough monetary items to allow him to live a noble life, but in today’s society, the view has shifted to putting more emphasis on monetary items leading man to happiness. These distinctions are very important because they show how we have changed and evolved what happiness means from Aristotle’s time to the 21st century.
“Happiness.” Merriam-Webster. n.d. n. page. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/happiness>.
“Poll: Money Plays a Role in Happiness.” UPI Beta. 18 Jun 2013: n. page. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2013/06/18/Poll-Money-plays-a-role-in-happiness/UPI-71751371559324/>.
Shapter, Andrew. “99 Definitions of Happiness.” Huffington Post. 05 Apr 2010: n. page. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-shapter/99-definitions-of-happine_b_524899.html>.
Snyder, Michael. “Debt Slavery: 30 Facts About Debt In America That Will Blow Your Mind.” American Dream. 09 Feb 2012: n. page. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/debt-slavery-30-facts-about-debt-in-america-that-will-blow-your-mind>.
“Understand the Debt Cycle and the Reasons People Go into Debt.” BYU Marriot School. n. page. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://personalfinance.byu.edu/?q=node/418>.
“What is Happiness?.” Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. n.d. n. page. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/happiness/definition>.