Pursuit of Happiness

Jenny Trinh, Period 5 Honorbound

What is happiness? As humans, we contemplate on whether or not we are happy every day: “Am I happy with my career?  My husband or wife? My education? Or my life? If not, what can I change to be happy?” However, we do not know the exact meaning of happiness and how it can be ultimately obtained. According to Aristotle, “men agree that the good is happiness, but differ as to what this is.” Everyone has their own definition of happiness whether it is something significant as wealth or something minor as a friendly compliment. In other words, everyone evaluates their own “happiness” according to their own situation. I could feel “happy” with an “A+” in my economics class while another student may feel equally content with a “B+.” In today’s society, people believe that they can find happiness through food, cars, homes, wealth, and other materialistic items. They are impatient and impulsive, willing to do whatever to achieve instant “happiness.” Contradicting those ideas, Aristotle and John Stuart Mill, both famous philosophers, have philosophized two different views on what happiness is and how to achieve it, both in which makes you wonder: Am I happy?  If not, how can I be happy? Is it possible for us humans to achieve true happiness even though we are impulsive, greedy, and impatient to find pleasure?

Aristotle, a well-known Greek philosopher, defines happiness when he says “the good is the final end and happiness is this.” From this, people understand that people can only reach true happiness when they are dead. However, he means everything “good” you choose to do is necessary in leading you to your final end, also known as the fulfillment of your function on earth. Also, he assures that not only one certain good thing can create satisfaction, but only the complete “final good.” Aristotle further clarifies that to obtain happiness is to fulfill your function as a human. What is the function of humans you may ask? A human’s function is to “live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed, it is performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence: If this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.” Thus, people need to live out their function on earth; otherwise, they will serve no purpose living or ever achieve ultimate happiness like a pencil that does not write or a clock that does not tell time.

As Aristotle elaborates on the final end as a way of life, he discusses the keys to reaching this desired “happiness”: virtue, reason, and contemplation. He states that happiness is “living accordance to reason,” and emphasizes the importance of virtue. Thus, we learn that reason is necessary to live a happy life. To be more conscious of your “appetite” and to progress towards happiness, you would think that a person needs the capability to think and reason. Also, Aristotle depicts that virtue is the habit of choosing the mean. In Aristotle’s example, the virtue of courage is questionable: if you are too courageous, then you are brash and arrogant and if you are not brave enough, then you are a coward. A man “is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.” Thus, aiming at the right virtue will help one take a step closer to happiness. For example, a person who is passionate about cooking will continue to practice making meals and train to get better, unlike one who dislikes cooking. Even if the cook is either terrible or excellent, he or she is content with cooking. This way is not only a good way to become better at cooking, but also a greater way to better fulfill the job as a cook. Therefore, with reason and virtue, one can better satisfy his or her function through a contemplative life.

Contrariwise, John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian beliefs describes happiness and one’s final end as pleasure with the absence of pain. According to Mill, “the theory of life on which this theory of morality is grounded-namely, that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.” In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that “there is a similar uncertainty also about what is good, because good things often do people harm: men have before now been ruined by wealth, and have lost their lives through courage.” In other words, with happiness always comes pain. Like in economics, there is always an opportunity in cost in life. How, then, can a man be completely happy? Contradicting Mill’s belief, Aristotle argues that humans do not focus on happiness until they face pain such like “after sickness it is health, and in poverty it is wealth.” As you may disagree or agree, take in account this example: A teenage girl who is starving may feel that eating fast-food such like Canes, will bring her happiness; however, it is temporary happiness in a way that in the end, if she continues to act upon this habit, will hurt her in health. However, from Mill’s views, it does not mean to go ahead and rid the things and goods that could potentially cause pain. For example, many things can cause either pain or happiness such as relationships. Thus, you should not avoid relationships just because you are scared of getting hurt because it could result in much more happiness instead.

Mill also explains that happiness can be found by maximizing one’s utility. To achieve ultimate joy, he believes in making yourself useful and beneficial to society as well as making the majority content. In other words, he believes that sacrifice is good only when it is for the greater good of the majority. There are many ways we have seen this in our society or in the past through Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, or even our parents. Martin Luther King Jr. sacrificed his reputation in order to achieve racial equality. Preaching his beliefs and putting his family and life in danger, he eventually achieved movement towards racial equality and made the world a safer and happier place. Likewise, Jesus sacrificed his life for our sins, so that we may go to Heaven. His life taken is more than billions of lives saved. In modern-day, our parents sacrifice the little things for their children. For example, parents may give up a day of relaxation to take kids to the park or give up their own needs to maintain their children’s happiness. All three of these examples demonstrate how a person’s maximized utility can make the majority happy and better off. However, from this people begin to wonder: Does society as a whole have to be happy for a single individual to be happy? Can some people be happy and some sad at the same time? I believe this should be true because everyone has their own experiences and outlooks on what happiness is.

Aristotle and Mill both have spent their lives philosophizing about the meaning of happiness and how one can achieve it. Sharing similarities, they both agree that happiness is the final end of fulfilling one’s function on earth. However, they both have their differences. As Mill contends that happiness is all pleasure and no pain, Aristotle reiterates that happiness correlates with pain. Both beliefs about happiness are well thought through and reasonable, but they also have their flaws in which we saw through various modern-day examples. If I had to agree with either Aristotle or John Stuart Mill, I would lean towards Aristotle’s beliefs due to the fact that it is similar to our ideology of happiness today. I agree that everyone has their own preference of happiness and that we can achieve it, if we are patient enough, to reach the final end. Happiness is indeed self-sufficient. I also agree with living accordance to reason and practicing virtue at the correct mean. If we choose to be patient, live a contemplative life, and practice according to reason and virtue, then we can step a step closer to happiness.

Today, happiness is the most desired goal in life; it is seen as the answer to all problems of depression, war, violence, death, or even poverty. Although our society continues to portray happiness as unreachable, we continue to work towards achieving happiness because we consider it the highest prize in our lives. Meanwhile, Aristotle also mentions that humans cannot successfully function on their own like how one person cannot manufacture a pencil himself.  Therefore, we humans as a whole need to come together as one, strive towards happiness, and rely on another to all live a life that is accordance to virtue and contemplative of our futures. All men need to remember that the purpose of life, according to both Aristotle and Mill, is to live in happiness. In summary, Aristotle and John Stuart Mill differ in their definition of happiness. The Aristotelian belief states that happiness is the ultimate good that is reached at the final end of a life lived by accordance to reason and virtue while Utilitarian belief argues that pleasure is the ultimate good and will lead to happiness if there is no presence of pain. Both well-known and respected philosophers stress the importance of obtaining happiness in one’s life as well as contribute to the ongoing debate on where and what happiness really is in life.

In all, it is important for people to remember that happiness is self-sufficient and has nothing to do with the materialistic items we rely on today such as wealth or power. Therefore, you have the power today to advance towards happiness. So live a contemplative life, determine and understand what your function is on earth, and try to help the people around you as well as yourself to achieve this “happiness.”

Works Cited

Richie, Robert. “Apostles Filipino Catholic Community: SPIRITUAL REFLECTION: How to Find True Happiness.” Apostles Filipino Catholic Community: SPIRITUAL REFLECTION: How to Find True Happiness. The Filllipino Catholic Community, 25 Jan. 2011. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.


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