This Has Got To Be The Good Life – Or Is It?

Theresa Nguyen

In today’s society, there are many components that contribute to an individual’s happiness or what you may think is his happiness. Primarily, imagine these two scenarios: the first being a man in a brand-new BMW convertible turning into his $2.3 billion dollar home, in which his picture perfect family resides and is preparing to go out to their typical lavish dinner at III Forks. The second scenario being a Haitian man who has lost everything to a recent hurricane and is still trying his best to support his family of four. The question then becomes out of these two, which one of them is happier? According to the materialistic desires and need for instantaneous gratification in today’s society, the evident answer to this question is the man with the extravagant belongings; what more could this man need? After all, he fulfills the American Dream that most Americans seek to accomplish — a luxurious home, a picture perfect family, and wealth to supply a lifetime of lavishness. However, Aristotle, one of the world’s most renown philosophers, defines happiness as the ability “to live in accordance with reason.” [1] When a man is said to have mastered his ability to live according to reason, Aristotle then defines this as the “good life.” [2] The poor Haitian man may not necessarily have the monetary wealth to provide for his family, but he does live in according to Aristotle’s definition of happiness by using his reason to find means to provide for his family. Evidently, these two scenarios exist on opposite extremes of the spectrum — the former derived from the superficiality of the material world while the latter derived from experience and rationale. The rich man lacks what the Haitian man has, which is the mindset to exemplify and master his ability to reason. In contrast, the rich man has what the Haitian man lacks, which is the wealth needed to live an extravagant life. The issue at hand is not the cause of happiness, but at which point does the authentic happiness we all yearn become apparent?

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Aristotle also claims that the end or purpose of one’s life is to live to the fullest extent because this is when happiness will be achieved. [3] If one is only surrounded by costly objects but lacks the use of his reason, how can these materialistic objects be used in a beneficial way or help him individual live fruitfully? In fact, these material objects can even act as hindrances on a person’s journey towards the goal of living a good life. What good is it for a man to gain the world and lose his soul? [4] If a man has fruits and values but cannot physically survive due to a lack of wealth, what is the purpose of possessing these values? In the final analysis, a man must find moderation between the material goods of the world, the goods of the soul, and the goods of the body in order to find authentic happiness. However, one must also not forget his surroundings; according to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, ” [happiness] must include the ends of the others, and must be the proper good of man.”[5] Without a stable and just government, there is no room for happiness to flourish. If a government does not have just economic policies for its citizens and for the government itself, satisfaction will never be found. One may think that the intent of the government is to promote the happiness of the individual, which would hypothetically lead to the happiness of the society. However, according to Aristotle, “the good of the state seems grander and more perfect thing both to attain and to secure;” [6] Therefore, the happiness of a society must be present before the happiness of an individual is obtained. Thus, the government of a country also has a significant role in defining a country’s happiness. In order for the government to have an effect on an individual’s happiness, the government must ensure societal justice so that each individual is capable of living well, as well as to promote the pursuit of a good life — one of equal balance of wealth and reason.opc5beMTB (1)

Aristotle spent majority of his life observing the quality of life of many individuals and noting how each one lived. From this, he concluded that three types of lives exist: the life of enjoyment, the life of the statesman, and the life of contemplation.[2] Recall the two scenarios: the rich man and the Haitian man. The rich man possesses a life of pleasure caused by external goods, while the Haitian man possesses a life that is full of the goods of the soul — virtue and reason. The rich man and the homeless man exist on opposite sides of the spectrum, while the average man could be said to exist in the middle — not too rich, but not struggling to survive. This counterbalance and moderation is the key to authentic happiness.

According to the Gallup Poll, the happiest countries and the countries filled with the most positive emotions are located in Latin America. [7] How do these Hispanic homelands have the never-ending happiness that most countries yearn for? The Gallup Institute took a recent poll on the “happiness” of citizens in their respected countries and based the results of the poll on the satisfaction one had with the standard of living in his country. The results of this poll present Panama as the happiest country in the world. [8] Superficially, the aesthetic appeal certainly has a positive effect on the Panamanian way of life and a Panamanian’s view of his country. If you nitpick some of the specific details of what makes Panama great, one would claim that an important aspect of Panama would be its healthcare, which plays a significant role in a Panamanian’s appreciation for his country; the healthcare system of Panama is one of the world’s finest, consisting of some of the world’s most intelligent doctors as well as advanced technology. To make things seem a little more too good to be true, the cost of healthcare in Panama does not exceed $800 per person annually. Not only can an individual constantly appreciate the beauty of the land he calls his home, but also does not have to fret about his well-being or the cost of maintaining it. The majestic view of the country as well the comforting and settling atmosphere provides leaves a Panamanian no option but to adore his country. To summarize, the Gallup Institute entitles Panama as the happiest country not only because of its attractive scenery, but also because of the infinite number of  small-scale characteristics of Panama that cause the quality of life in Panama to be so exquisite. Life in Panama seems too good to be true with its luscious terrain and simplistic details which make the country seem so fulfilling. But not too fast; where has value and reason come into this country’s happiness? If Panamanians cannot are not given the opportunity to live with reason, this happiness is incomplete and invalid.

In another view, the Legatum Institute has also accepted the challenge to define an individual’s happiness by taking a poll as well; however, this poll is not only based on the satisfaction of an individual in his homeland, but also on the economic standing and economic determinants of the country. [9] Specifically, these determinants are entrepreneurship, personal freedom, economy, education, safety, and many more. [10] Norway tops this list, taking 1st place for the 5th straight year, but you may ask how is this possible? One important element of this country that I might include is the drilling of offshore oil and gas, allowing the nation to be funded $400 billion yearly just from these products. [11] You may also ask what this may have to do with a Norwegian’s happiness. As previously mentioned, happiness in today’s society revolves around wealth, and well, this possession of oil and gas allows the economy of Norway to flourish, allowing wages to circulate so that majority of the nation may live comfortably and resourcefully. As the poll shows, wealth does hold true as a determinant of a nation’s happiness, even if it is only a minor aspect. With the use of reason, a Norwegian is capable of earning his monetary wealth and learn to manage his goals and provide for his family, which all serve under his function in life. Wealth is not essential to happiness, but is required in order to fully achieve authentic happiness. Thus, the citizens of Norway are living to the their fullest extent by finding moderation within these three determinants of happiness.

In the final analysis, happiness isn’t the choice between wealth and simplicity; it is the perfect balance of both. If one attempts to live a life fully of wealth and wages, he will not be able to live life in accordance with reason. Likewise, if a man attempts to live life without any wages, he will not be able to fully exercise his reason. If an individual begins to learn that wealth and reason have equal values in life, that is when he will achieve authentic happiness. However, this is conditional because the government also has a role in determining a nation and an individual’s happiness. Therefore, when determining an individual’s and/or government’s happiness, one must consider the his wealth, his use of reason, and the government around him.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics: Book I (350 B.C.E.), 7.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mark 8:36 NAB

[5] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics: Book I (350 B.C.E.), 2.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Weissenstein, Happiest People on the Planet. 

[8] Ibid.

[9] Helman, World’s Happiest (and Saddest) Countries, 2013.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

 

Work Cited:

Gordts, Eline. “Happiest People On Planet Live In Latin America, Gallup Poll Suggests.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Dec. 2012. Web. 27 June 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/20/happiest-people-on-planet-latin-america_n_2336772.html>.

Helman, Christopher. “The World’s Happiest (And Saddest) Countries, 2013.”Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 27 June 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2013/10/29/the-worlds-happiest-and-saddest-countries-2013/>.

Photos:

2014 Toyota Corolla. Web. 27 June 2014. 

Banmiller . “Money Can Buy Happiness… Almost.” 2010.Web. 

Jauregui . Italian Villa. 2014. Exterior Decor, Austin . Houzz. Web. 27 June 2014.

Spradlin . The Homeless Man That Changed Changed My Life . N.d. Epic Parents, Haiti . The Homeless Man That Changed My Life . Web. 27 June 2014.

 

 

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