Happiness – as humans we spend our whole lives searching for it. In our relationships, in our work, and in our spiritual lives, we are all ultimately reaching towards the goal of being happy. Happiness is often thought of as fleeting; instead of a state of being, it is a momentary feeling of joy, there one minute and gone the next. Everyone pursues it in different ways, some more effective (and moral) than others. But has anyone achieved this goal? Aristotle taught that happiness could be reached through a life in accordance with reason; this statement can be seen echoed in the present measurements of happiness in our world.
Constantly bustling with energy and activity, India is often considered one of the most cultural countries in South Asia. With a GDP of 1,842 trillion U.S. dollars, it is developing at a lightning fast rate. By 2030, it has been predicted that India will be the 3rd largest economy in the world. In modern-day terms, this would be the ultimate sign of success. So why was India rated the second saddest country in the world? To answer this question in basic terms is relatively simple; every country has its problems. The gap between India’s rich and poor is massive: 22 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The country’s health care is “extremely poor with high malnourishment and infant mortality and low vaccination rates” (Helman). Education in India is abysmal, arguably the country’s current most pressing issue. There is only a 64% literacy rate; a huge percent of the population cannot afford to receive proper schooling or does not have the resources to remain in school after elementary grades. Emotional well-being in India is also lacking; a social capital study shows that only 60% of those surveyed feel they can rely on family or friends in a time of need, and only 21% find other people trustworthy. Stable and loving relationships are clearly not likely to blossom in an environment such as this. Inequalities in gender and social status lead to further segregation in the community. Women are widely discriminated against in a male dominant society, and the caste system leads to “low levels of entrepreneurship and opportunity” (Helman). At first glance, India appears to be a booming urban force in the nation; however a second look reveals deep-rooted social and economic issues which must be confronted for the country to continue growing. So how does India compare to a smaller, less prosperous country – in particular the homey atmosphere of Denmark?
In comparison to India, Denmark does not offer much at a first glance. Surrounded by the North and Baltic Seas, this mid-sized country is home to Hans Christian Anderson, Ludvig Holberg, and of course, danishes. Denmark’s GDP is 314.2 billion U.S. dollars, putting it just under Norway and far behind India. But despite its underwhelming exterior, Denmark has repeatedly been elected the happiest country on earth. Forbes ranks the countries in this study based on a scale which considers six factors: GPD per capita, life expectancy at birth, amount of corruption in leadership, sense of social support, freedom to make life choices, and generosity of culture. The health care system in Denmark is model quality; all citizens receive health care as a basic right, and the Danish are well-educated in the necessity of regular visits to their doctor, leading to health improvements overall. Gender equality in Denmark is key – “the assumption in Denmark is that feminism is a collective goal, not an individual pursuit” (Melnick). This leads to increased productivity and entrepreneurship as women take high positions in the workplace. Denmark also boasts extensive measures to support new parents; Danish families receive 52 weeks of parental leave and have access to low cost, quality child care, encouraging citizens to start families. Another factor in the country’s well being is physical activity. Biking is an extremely popular form of transportation, with 50% of Copenhagen residents biking to school or work daily. Not only does this improve health and air pollution rates, but Denmark’s economy. Transport by bike saves taxpayers money “in avoided air pollution, accidents, congestion, noise and wear and tear on infrastructure” (Melnick). Every year, over 34 million dollars is saved by the country’s biking habit. In contrast to India, Denmark fosters a close sense of community. Over 40 percent of Danes participate in some form of volunteer work (35.3 billion hours’ worth of labor). The Danish are known for their lack of social segregation; citizens view their neighbors as equals, and attitudes of superiority are looked down on. Denmark’s government is viewed as an extremely successful democracy; 87.7 percent of the country cast their votes in the 2011 election (America’s most recent voter turnout was 57.5%, to put this in perspective). This shows that the people truly have a voice in the decisions being made by the country. Clearly, there are multiple factors which would lead present-day philosophers to agree that Denmark is a happier place than India. But how does this claim hold up in the viewpoint of Aristotle?
According to Aristotle, the final end is happiness, which is the ultimate good. In order to determine how “good” something is, you must determine whether it is effectively performing its function. Happiness can be reached by fulfilling your potential as a human being and performing your function. But what is our function as human beings? Aristotle starts by questioning what it is that makes us uniquely human, eventually coming to two conclusions. We have the ability to listen to reason, and to use this reason in application to our life’s problems. Therefore, a happy, fully human life is one in accordance with reason, using reason to contemplate and problem-solve on a daily basis. While this definition may seem basic or vague, it is actually proven by the happiness ratings of Denmark and India. A life of reason means a life of middle grounds: no extremes. India, the traditionally more successful country, is nothing but extremes. Ridiculously rich and devastatingly poor citizens, soaring population numbers and a steadily increasing death toll, rich culture and deficient education – every characteristic of the country seems to be on the far end of the spectrum, whether positive or negative. There is no middle ground, no compromise between the extremes, only one or the other. Denmark, however, is in the middle ground. With a medium-sized population and enough wealth to stay thriving but not be a major competitor, Denmark encourages a life of reason. It may not be the 2nd largest economy in seventeen years, but it will be closer to its final end – the ultimate good of happiness.
When considering the present concept of happiness, the first things to jump to mind are most likely freedom, wealth, a successful relationship, a stable home, and a loving family. These are all things which we as humans crave daily, so it is natural that Aristotle’s definition of happiness as “reason and contemplation” may fall flat in the eyes of our generation. Why use reason when you can take risks and succeed? Why contemplate when you can take action? Why stay in the middle ground when you can soar to the utmost extreme? The “American Dream” mindset engineers us to constantly be striving for more. While this does lead to motivation and entrepreneurial spirit, it also makes us inclined to crave the extreme. However, if we take a moment to realize that the top of the totem pole isn’t always the happiest place to be, it opens up our minds to consider the possibility of simply shooting for the average: the middle ground. Aristotle’s ideas are difficult for many to understand in the context of today’s society, but through the right perspective, they can be seen in effect all around us – in both our world and our lives.
CNN Wire. “Election Results 2012: Voter Turnout Lower than 2008 and 2004, Report Says.” KNXV. ABC 15, 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
ET Bureau. “Now, Only 22 per Cent Indians below Poverty Line: Planning Commission.” The Economic Times. N.p., 24 July 2013. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
Helman, Christopher. “The World’s Happiest (And Saddest) Countries.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 07 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
Melnick, Meredith. “Denmark Is Considered The Happiest Country. You’ll Never Guess Why.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 22 Oct. 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.
PTI. “India Likely to Become 3rd Largest Economy by 2030: Report – The Economic Times.”The Economic Times. N.p., 6 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.