France’s Most Wanted: True Happiness

Mallory Khouw

Mr. Aparicio

Macroeconomics Period 7

How can humanity achieve their true good? People from all over the world have linked goodness to health, lifespan, education, employment, and so on. Particularly, in France, the average lifespan is impressive. Average life expectancy for males was 78.4 years in 2012 and average life expectancy for females was 84.7 years. This is a higher life expectancy than the United States has, and it is one of the highest in the world (“Official Website of the France Tourism Development Agency”). France is a relatively healthy country; they stay healthy mostly because transportation in urban areas is scarce, thus forcing the majority of citizens to walk or jog to destinations. As a result of their healthiness, one would think they would be happier. Would the happiness that comes along with health, if associated with pleasure, outweigh other misfortunes? John Stuart Mill argues that it does, but to an extent. Even Aristotle reasons, “All beings, both rational and irrational, strive after these pleasures” because pleasure seems to be beneficial to us (Aristotle. “Book 1.” Nicomachean Ethics). However, based on extensive research, many French people do not quite seem to enjoy their long lives. Why is this? The answer lies in Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics: many of the French people are simply not fulfilling their functions and have strayed from the pathway to happiness.

In France in 2011, unemployment was 9.3%. This is not an anomaly, as most countries have similar rates of unemployment (“Official Website of the France Tourism Development Agency”). All countries must have at least some unemployment to have a stable and growing economy. The French may have little trouble finding a job, but they are reported to be typically unhappy with their jobs and it is common to skip work frequently just because they do not want to be there. Unhappy workers are not a huge threat to the economy of France, but the unhappiness that festers inside the French citizens is detrimental to the lives of each individual human being. Because boredom or unhappiness is not seen as imperative for the French government to take care of, nothing is done to fix this nation-wide problem. Conversely, the United States constantly emphasizes the importance of loving your job and finding a job that fits your needs, desires, and interests. Aristotle may agree with this emphasis, as he argues that every person has a function that suits him or her perfectly and justly—a job is not done for the sole purpose of earning money. The United States emphasizes the importance of finding a career path that fits oneself, but they may emphasize it too much in the eyes of Aristotle. Doing a job is not equal to fulfilling your function. It can only help on one’s journey to find
his or herself.

Tediousness in the workforce leads to calamitous home lives. In France, 38.3% of marriages were legally divorced in 2012. This number ranks in the top 30 of most divorced countries. This displays that France is not a very happy country. It should also be noted that the amount of marriages in France are constantly decreasing as people are becoming unwilling to even get married in the first place (“Geography” Infoplease). Love is declining in France, indicating that happiness is also declining. Reasons for this trail back to Aristotle’s fundamental argument of how to achieve one’s true good. He explains, “The function of man…is exercise of his vital faculties [or soul] on one side in obedience to reason, and on the other side with reason” (Nicomachean Ethics; bk.1, ch.7). Humans’ functions are fulfilled by their reason. We have reason in order to discover the truth about important things like why we exist and what our purposes actually are. Without “reason,” or purpose (in this case, purpose in jobs), people are left feeling worthless and sad. The increased break-ups of marriages could be associated with financial difficulties as well. If people do not like their jobs, see no purpose in their careers, and skip work all the time, they will lose potential monetary earnings as a result. With little income to support a family or even a spouse, marriages are bound to end more frequently.

A study sponsored by the World Health Organization found that 21% of people in France reported having an extended period of depression within their lifetime. This percentage is the highest in the world. Because of this, it can be assumed that many French citizens find their lives to be useless. They are simply not fulfilling their function, based on the depression rates alone. France has a very high standard of beauty, fashion, and lavish lifestyles. Especially in Paris, there are over-priced designer stores on every street corner. The citizens of Paris are molded to see luxury goods as the highest good. They’re surrounded by this idea their whole lives. However, Aristotle’s way of achieving happiness is not directly linked to wealth or material goods. The famous philosopher states, “even if it is not heaven sent, but comes as a consequence of virtue or some kind of learning or training, still it seems to be one of the most divine things in the world; for the prize and aim of virtue would appear to be better than anything else and something divined and blessed” (Aristotle. “Book 1.” Nicomachean Ethics). Aristotle would urge the French that in order to reach their definitive goals in life and fulfill their desires, they must perform good deeds and unite with others. Then, they would become one with true happiness, fortune, and accomplishment—whether they have monetary wealth or not. You can’t achieve Aristotle’s definition of happiness from luxury goods alone. Much of the population of France is not living in accordance with this. Many of them strive to gain money with the idea they will get a side-effect of happiness, then they use that money to buy lavish things in order to show off their ‘worth’ to their neighbors. Greediness is the wrong way to find happiness. In fact, it distracts from happiness and functions of humans. Moreover, because they do not have the money to afford more lavish things and continue to desire more, it leads to their absence of pleasure. This is where John Stuart Mill would chime in, as he claims that “intended pleasure and the absence of pain” defines goodness or happiness (John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism). Unfortunately, both Mill’s definition of happiness and Aristotle’s definition of happiness are missing in France.

Despite longer life-expectancies in France, 20.3% of people do not get a secondary diploma and 73% of people do not get a post-secondary diploma. This data shows that it is uncommon for the French to seek out higher education. However, in order to develop reason, one must seek education and knowledge. Because of this, France’s high suicide and depression rates are not surprising. If they are not living fulfilling lives and not gaining knowledge, Aristotle would expect them to be unhappy. The overall suicide rate is 14.6 per 100,000 people — twice the rate in Britain and a 40% higher rate than Germany and the US. The suicide rate for French men is 22.8 per 100,000—three times the rate for women, 7.5 per 100,000. Because of the high suicide rates, it is apparent that many French people do not want to live because of their lack of fulfillment. In contrast, the value for homicides (per 100,000 people) in France was 1.09 as of 2009. Over the past 13 years, this rate reached a maximum value of 2.02 in 1996 and a minimum value of 1.09 in 2009 (“Geography” Infoplease). They are mostly unhappy with their own lives and want to end their own misery—not each other’s.

Aristotle states that “moral virtue is acquired by the repetition of the corresponding acts” (Aristotle. “Book 2.” Nicomachean Ethics). In other words, we gain our moral virtue through habit. If we gain our moral virtue, we will also gain goodness. Correspondingly, the repetition of mindless work and depressing tendencies can lead to exactly the opposite: the bad. As seen by France’s death rates (and especially suicide rates), badness, or the opposite of goodness, has already made its presence throughout French society. The people are not fulfilling their functions, not finding their functions, and living lives without contemplation through higher education—another vital act to find true good in Aristotle’s opinion. He believes, in order to live in happiness, man must use his potential and experience a life of contemplation. He explains the importance in distinguishing what is ‘best and right’ which therefore leads to living virtuously and purposefully. Aristotle stresses contemplation because he believes it is what separates human beings from animals or plants. The French are missing out on it all—pleasure, meaning, and true motivation. What the French citizens are doing wrong in their quests for happiness and goodness is that they not searching for it at all. Instead of aiming to be happy, they aim to get through life by staying physically fit and longing lavish items in order to appear happier than their neighbors. They aim to look like models and have the finest fashion, but do not do what it takes to have fulfilling lives. They’re lost in a daze without contemplation and direction. By understanding the mistakes in generally unhappy people and rigorously studying the works of philosophers like Aristotle with excerpts from Mill, we can stay on the right path to goodness and never stray and become lost from our purpose and function.

Works Cited

Aristotle. “Book 1.” Nicomachean Ethics. Indianapolis [Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962. N. pag. Print.

Aristotle. “Book 2.” Nicomachean Ethics. Indianapolis [Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962. N. pag. Print.

Brody, Richard. “Glad to Be Unhappy: The French Case.” The New Yorker. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.

“Central Intelligence Agency.” The World Factbook. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.

“Geography.” Infoplease. Infoplease, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2013.

John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism. Chicago, IL, 1861.

“Official Website of the France Tourism Development Agency.” Official Website of the France Tourism Development Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.

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