Is Switzerland happy by Aristotelian standards?

Kendall Jackson / Mr. Aparicio (Summer Economics) (Houndbound)

Happy Swiss Citizens

In 2014, Switzerland is considered the happiest country in the world. But what makes this country considered happy? Aristotle would consider a person who is happy someone who exercises their virtues and is successful. According to Aristotle, happiness isn’t a feeling but more of a way of living. What we want out of life is not to feel something, but to be something. Switzerland is considered the happiest country in the world because most of them are in good health, feel they are healthy, felt secure about not losing their jobs, and many people had jobs and didn’t work long hours. Switzerland’s determinant about being happy wasn’t based on exercising virtues or being virtuous. Not saying that Switzerland isn’t virtuous, but it was not acknowledged when determining the happiest countries in the world. Aristotle wouldn’t consider someone happy if they don’t have all the criteria. Switzerland has the highest life expectancy and the highest life satisfaction score.

Switzerland’s consideration of happiness is having high life expectancy, a low percentage of people working long hours, and more people with jobs, earning more money and having a high income. In Switzerland, people are spending less time working a lot of hours and even though they are working fewer hours, people in Switzerland feel secure that they wouldn’t lose their job. Also, 79% of the population has a job, which is the second highest percentage of all countries. Since a lot of citizens have jobs, and aren’t working long hours, they are happier than people who are working long hours, unlike Norway’s percentage of employees working long hours (3.1%) which is the 6th lowest measured of all countries. Even though Norway is working more, they earn a disposable income of $32,093, which is the 3rd highest measured compared to Switzerland’s disposable income of $30,745 (5th highest)[1]. To the common man in today’s society, being successful and gaining wealth is a main target, believing that money makes everyone happier, but would Aristotle agree?

“[A happy man] was a man who was moderately supplied with the gifts of fortune, but had done the noblest deeds, and lived temperately; for a man who has but modest means may do his duty.”[2] A happy man is not a rich man or a poor man, but one who has just enough to satisfy them and fulfill their function (living in accordance with reason). According to, the world’s richest countries, Switzerland has a GDP per capita of $41,950. Switzerland neither the number one wealthiest country in the world, nor in the top five; it is number nine[3]. Therefore, it isn’t overly wealthy, but has money to survive and get what they need, which in one sense, qualifies them to be happy.

All qualities that qualifies Switzerland to be the “The World’s Happiest Country” have adult qualities, like jobs, income, and life-expectancy. Aristotle said that happiness is subjective and isn’t a feeling, and like intelligence and knowledge, happiness is learned/gained with age. Switzerland’s ranking, being based on adult qualities, makes their ranking true to Aristotle’s qualifications (so far). Happiness is gained with age, and Aristotle says that a man is not happy until the end of his life because there is no more obstacles for him to fall to/overcome[4]. A man at the end of his life can officially be called happy if he has lived in accordance to virtue and has been successful. So, according to that it would be hard to determine happiness by only employment, income, and working hours. Living in accordance with virtue would involve being nice and living with high moral standards, which leads to less crime. In all of the charts, none of them included crime rates or anything about virtues.

Humans have unlimited wants, and it is impossible to fill all those wants, but if we have everything we need to fulfill our function, then we will be happy and everything other than that is marginal (extra, to achieve a greater happiness). By those standards, the richest people may seem to be happy because they have it all, but by Aristotle’s standards, they are not truly happy. John Stuart Mill said in book Utilitarianism, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.”[5] The last two sentences, “And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides,”[6] is the key part to the passage because referring to Aristotle, a man’s function is to exercise his ability to reason, and to be the higher being, i.e. Socrates or a human being, you know both sides and therefore have the ability and knowledge to choose which option you would rather be.

Switzerland is a gorgeous country. But I think that everyone has the wrong definition of happiness. Until studying Aristotle, I thought the same thing, but after learning Aristotle’s definition of happiness, his thoughts are all accurate and make sense. Happiness is an action and not a feeling. It cannot be determined until the end of your life. It is hard to understand because saying “I am happy” is a common phrase. From Aristotle’s point of view, once someone dies, you look over their whole life and from there you can determine if that person was truly happy and can say, “He/She lived a happy life.” Do you really know what happiness is though? At a young age, a child is happy by simply being given a lollipop. That is not true happiness because they do not have true knowledge of what happiness really is. Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics talks all about what true happiness is and what it is not.

By all means, Switzerland could be the happiest country in the world, but it should be classified by Aristotle’s definition and not the modern definition of happiness: wealth. The people who judge the countries chose one of the criteria to be life satisfaction. You could be satisfied with your life, but are you enjoying it? You could have a roof and a family, but of course there are more things that you would need to fulfill your function, so the category shouldn’t be “Life Satisfaction” but “Life Enjoyment” at least.

Not any standing for the happiest country said anything about having a low level crime rate, which coincides with high moral standards or virtues. Coincidentally though, by further research, Switzerland has the lowest crime rate of 2013[7]. It is hard to tell if it is a coincidence or the people judging all the countries put into consideration the crime rates. We don’t know because it wasn’t included in the description that explained the decision, but it is a question to think about.

The main question though, is Switzerland happy by Aristotelian standards? It is hard to tell. According to statistics, it looks as if the Switzerland population overall is happy, and the country has rightfully earned their spot as to being “The Happiest Country in the World.” The people who judge the countries on their happiness do need to look at the Aristotelian definition of happiness and include crime, but this year’s winner truly did win the title. To earn the title two years in a row, is a great accomplishment and makes Switzerland a place to put on your bucket list to do before you die. Why is Switzerland so happy though? Because they have just enough to fulfill their function to lead them to a greater ending: happiness. Like earlier, Switzerland isn’t the richest country in the world, but they have the good morals by having the lowest crime rate and by not being the richest country, they have enough to fill their needs and a little more. In the end, having everything isn’t as fantastic as it seems. Aristotle proves that true happiness doesn’t get you everything you want, but you have everything you need to live a life in accordance with reason, are successful, and exercise virtues.


[1] Hess, Alexander E.M., Thomas C. Frohlich, and Vince Calio. “The Happiest Countries in the World.” USA Today. (10 May 2014)

[2] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, c.340 BC

[3] Greenfield, Beth, “The World’s Richest Countries,” Forbes, (February 22, 2012)

[4] Aristotle, “The NicomacheanEthics”, c.340 BC

[5] Mills, John Stuart, “Utilitarianism”, 1983

[6] ibid

[7] Ghimire, Nikhil, “Top 10 Countries with the Lowest Recorded Crime Rate” EList10 (June 27, 2014)



Aristotle, “The NicomacheanEthics”, c.340 BC

Greenfield, Beth, “The World’s Richest Countries,” Forbes, (February 22, 2012)

Ghimire, Nikhil, “Top 10 Countries with the Lowest Recorded Crime Rate” EList10 (June 27, 2014)

Hess, Alexander E.M., Thomas C. Frohlich, and Vince Calio. “The Happiest Countries in the World.” USA Today. (10 May 2014)

Mills, John Stuart, “Utilitarianism”, 1983


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