Is the Happiest Man Alive an Aristotelian?

Is the Happiest Man Alive an Aristotelian?

By: Ashley Krueger

For centuries philosophers, scientists, and even the lay person have been trying to interpret what happiness is. Our own Declaration of Independence declares the right of citizens to the “pursuit of happiness”. We ask the question, “What causes us to be happy? How can one achieve total happiness?” The modern definition of happiness is closely related what we also consider as pleasure, in the sense that happiness is often talked referred to in a temporary sense. However, philosophers like Aristotle and even Matthieu Ricard , thought to be the happiest man on Earth, believe is happiness more of a state of mind than a particular feeling. There is a drastic time difference between these two influential men; however, they share many of the same ideas regarding happiness and its pursuit.

Mattieu Ricard was born in February 15, 1946 in Savoie, France. As the son of an important philosopher, Jean-François Ricard,  Matthieu had a deep desire to understand the core meaning of life. First, he pursued a PhD in microbiology and then continued his studies on a more spiritual route as a Buddhist monk in the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet.[1] He has found his experiences to be especially rewarding. Although his title as the happiest man on earth is not self-proclaimed, it is scientifically proven. In the laboratory tests, Ricard has incredible mind control, and his upbeat impulses are off the charts! He contributes his mind abilities to extensive meditation and his upbeat impulses to his unusual optimistic outlook. [2] Scientists are astounded. Seriously, what ARE the perks of living in the rural and freezing mountains of Tibet? How can a man be so happy living off minimal and simple foods, not possessing any material goods, and spending nearly half the day in a meditative state of mind? Sounds like a rather difficult and dull life style, if you ask me.

In order to understand the pure happiness of Ricard, perhaps I should revert back to the ideas of Aristotle, the first man to ever deeply study the concept of happiness. Aristotle also addressed happiness in the regard that it was not a fleeting emotion. It was being in the pursuit of achieving “the excellence of man”[3]. Though people question Ricard’s ability to be happy due to his life style, Ricard retaliates stating that his mindset of happiness is further strengthened by living in the Tibetan environment. He explains his profound happiness is more of a foundation in his life and not a result of his circumstances. Even in states of anger and sadness, his is still a happy person. In Ricard’s perspective happiness is not just a feeling it is the optimistic mental state he maintains through meditations and positive thinking. He describes happiness and emotion as an ocean. The tide of the waters ever changing are much like our wavering emotions and immediate feelings; however, the depths of the waters represent our state of happiness which is unchanged and stays consistent. He uses this alliteration in defense that we can be experiencing feelings of sadness, but still perceive life as happy people. [4]

Over a 1000 years earlier, Aristotle addresses happiness as man’s ability to exercise “the vital faculties in accordance with excellence or virtue.” He describes this quest as an exercise we try to perfect throughout the entirety of our lives. [5]Ricard has a similar stance on this notion. He states that, “whatever we do, whatever we hope or dream is somehow related to our deep profound desire for happiness.” [6]Like Aristotle, Ricard believes that the answer to perfect happiness lies with our habits. Aristotle describes happiness to be an, “activity of the soul.”[7] We cannot simply just be happy because we are human. We must pursue this internal foundation of happiness through our actions. Many thinkers agree with both Ricard and Aristotle in the fact that “happiness is a choice.” [8] Our habits and patterns of thought can solidify or weaken our foundation of happiness. One of the reasons, Ricard is considered to be the happiest man alive is due to the fact that he can focus all his mental ability on feelings of compassions and joy. He believes we can train our minds to disregard negative and pessimistic thoughts by focusing on our “inner being” Through meditation or mind training, we train ourselves to be happy and prevent our minds from being tainted with jealous, selfish, or evil thoughts. He says that after extensive training negative thoughts or feelings will be fleeting and only remain for briefs moments. “It is like a monsoon… but in the end (after training) you only see the few flask of dust.”[9] Or in Aristotle’s view “he will not be moved from happiness easily,” no matter what the misfortunes he endures.1 It truly comes down to the power of positive thinking. At the end of the day, do you imagine the glass have full? Or do you picture a glass half empty?

Interpreting these men’s view on happiness is enlightening. As an 18 year old in the twenty first century, my image of happiness could be living in a white picket house in suburbia, working my dream job alongside my sexy and successful husband and our two children. Both Aristotle and Ricard would cringe at this kind of attempt to envision happiness. Both would argue that I am describing a creepy kinds of pleasure rather than true happiness. Ricard states that in today’s society we completely confuse pleasure and happiness.” He states, “Happiness is not a pleasurable sensation. It is, however, a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment.” [10]Aristotle’s stance is somewhat different. He recognizes the difference between pleasure and happiness; however, he writes that some pleasures are required in order to live a happy life. Aristotle states that happiness does require some external good. It is nearly impossible to achieve happiness without things like friends or some fortunes, “Whose absence takes the bloom off our happiness.”[11] So according to Aristotle, Matthieu Ricard is accomplishing the impossible while living the simple life up in the Mountains of Tibet? Aristotle states that it is not impossible to be happy under harsh conditions, but rather that it is “not easy, to act without some furniture of fortune”[12]. Aristotle believed a moderate amount of pleasure in our lives could only increase the strength of our happiness. Ricard also addresses a similar statement within his Ted Talk. He discusses the topic of chocolate cake, a topic that I, myself, favor. The first piece is delicious, but the consequence of eating too much chocolate cake is an upset stomach.[13] Both Aristotle and Ricard discuss the idea of decreasing marginal utility. They address that happiness is indeed very different from pleasure, but that pleasure can assist in happiness in moderation.

Happiness is not a mystery to either Aristotle or Mattieu Ricard. Both men acknowledge the human desire to achieve the inner foundation of happiness through our action or our minds. They stress that the key to a happy life lives within not only our inner being, but within our actions. They both debate societies ideas of happiness and pleasure, concluding that they are somewhat related; however, in no way are happiness and pleasure synonyms. I think that their central message of both of their literary presentations is best said by another man named Og Mandino, the author of the novel The Greatest Salesman in the World, “ make good habits and become their slaves.”[14] Choosing to do right, choosing to think positively, and choosing to seek more than pleasure will bring us true happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

  1. Aristotle Reading in Packet
  2. Mandino, Og.. The greatest salesman in the world. New York: F. Fell, 1968.
  1. Ricard, Matthieu. “Matthieu Ricard.” Home . http://www.matthieuricard.org/en/ (accessed May 2, 2014).
  2. Ricard, Matthieu. “The habits of happiness.” Matthieu Ricard:. http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness#t-1239690 (accessed May 2, 2014).
  3. Mandino, Og.. The greatest salesman in the world. New York: F. Fell, 1968.
  1. “Happiest man in the world.” Chill Hour RSS. http://www.chillhour.com/happiest-man-in-the-world (accessed May 5, 2014).

 

Footnotes:

[1] Ricard, Matthieu. “Matthieu Ricard.” Home . http://www.matthieuricard.org/en/ (accessed May 2, 2014).

 

[2] Ricard, Matthieu. “Matthieu Ricard.” Home . http://www.matthieuricard.org/en/ (accessed May 2, 2014).

 

[3] Aristotle in Packet

[4] Ricard, Matthieu. “The habits of happiness.” Matthieu Ricard:. http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness#t-1239690 (accessed May 2, 2014).

[5] Aristotle in Packet

[6] Ricard, Matthieu. “The habits of happiness.” Matthieu Ricard:. http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness#t-1239690 (accessed May 2, 2014).

 

[7] Aristotle in Packet

[8] Mandino, Og.. The greatest salesman in the world. New York: F. Fell, 1968.

[9] Ricard, Matthieu. “The habits of happiness.” Matthieu Ricard:. http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness#t-1239690 (accessed May 2, 2014).

[10] Ricard, Matthieu. “The habits of happiness.” Matthieu Ricard:. http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness#t-1239690 (accessed May 2, 2014).

[11] Aristotle in Packet

[12] Aristotle in Packet

[13] Ricard, Matthieu. “The habits of happiness.” Matthieu Ricard:. http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness#t-1239690 (accessed May 2, 2014).

[14] Mandino, Og.. The greatest salesman in the world. New York: F. Fell, 1968.

 

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2 thoughts on “Is the Happiest Man Alive an Aristotelian?

  1. Great Article. I never knew that the happiest man on earth could be a monk! I think the monk had a very good way of explaining the difference between happiness and pleasure. Its cool that Aristotles ideas regarding happiness are being carried out and even pertain to the happiest man alive. I’ll have to go watch his ted talk.

    Katie Glasscock

  2. Very nice article Ashley. The only thing I would say is that you ought to be a little more skeptical of the notion that science could possibly measure who is the “happiest man on earth.” The mere idea assumes that sensations (measure as brain impulses) are happiness, which is in other words pleasure. The argument therefore assumes what it is trying to prove.

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