Is happiness a mere illusion?

Jenna Buys: Period 6–Honor Bound

In today’s society it seems that happiness is all just an illusion…is there a society/time period where happiness was evident?

With the ever growing list of new innovations it seems that in today’s society there will never come a time when people are truly content with what they have. We are consumed with materialistic objects that seem to bring happiness only for short periods of time until there is something better than the previous one on the market. This raises the question of whether or not it is possible for humans to ever be fully content. Can we attain happiness or is it all just an illusion? Philosophers have attempted to uncover a human condition that produces happiness but no one has come to an agreement of what happiness is and how it can be attained.

In 350 B.C., a philosopher, named Aristotle, wrote Nichomachean Ethics speaking about his belief that happiness was the greatest good, our final end and the most pleasurable thing in the world [1]. Another philosopher named John Stuart Mill wrote in Utilitarianism that happiness is not a simply self-centered goal; rather, human beings in a utilitarianism society are called to sacrifice “their own greatest good for the good of others.”[2] Although to many this might seem far-fetched and outrageous, I believe the 1960s was a time period where the so called ‘happiness’ we all speak of today was absolute. A major counterculture during the 1960s was the hippie movement. The hippies’ primary principle was that life was about being happy, not about what others thought you should be [3]. Can this time period be seen as true happiness that follows Aristotle’s and Mill’s views of happiness?

The 1960s were a time of revolution in American life and culture. This decade affected education, values, lifestyles, laws, and entertainment. With over 70,000,000 baby boomers becoming teens in the ‘60s, the youth dominated this revolution [4]. Teenagers began to rebel from their parents more conservative ideas and began looking for new ways of acting and thinking. The hippie movement was a countercultural movement that rejected the values of mainstream American life. The hippie lifestyle initially formed because of the major issues happening in the United States during that time period; such as the Vietnam War, gender inequality, and the disapproval of same-sex marriage. This movement originated on college campuses in the United States and eventually spread to other countries, including Canada and Britain [5]. Hippies of the 1960s were seen by many as dirty, disrespectful, and a disgrace to society. However, they were also a reminder of a more peaceful and carefree part of American history. Hippies felt alienated from the middle-class society, which they thought to be dominated by materialism and repression. Hippies advocated nonviolence and love, a popular phrase being “Make love, not war,” for which they were sometimes referred to as “flower children.” They promoted openness and tolerance as alternatives to the restrictions they saw in the middle-class society [6]. Although money has always been very important to individuals desiring success and happiness, hippies did not worry about the amount of wealth they had, and they truly supported the idea of sharing amongst one another. They believed that materialism adds negative energy to one’s life, causing individuals to forget what is truly important in everyday life. The hippie movement loosely supports Aristotle’s views of happiness in a variety of ways.

Aristotle preaches that happiness is an activity of the soul, and happiness remains as one of the “noblest and pleasantest thing in the world”. Aristotle’s point closely aligns with the beliefs of hippies because they both value happiness over all things. In order to achieve happiness, hippies believe that peace must coexist within the rest of society [7]. Hippies do not believe in conforming to society, they believe that good for the society can be found within a single person [8]. The people of the 1960s would agree with Aristotle’s view that, “goods of the soul are commonly said to be goods in the fullest sense, and more good than any other,” because they strongly support the goodness and purity of the soul. Aristotle believes that happiness is a complete and sufficient good [9]. A hippie’s ultimate desire and therefore happiness would be a life without war, violence, or judgment. Music was a huge part of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s because many of the values of the time were expressed through songs. Music seemed to be the definition of the decade with icons like “The Beatles”, “Bob Dylan” and “The Beach Boys”, who promoted peace and love. One of the most well-known moments in music during the 1960s was a three-day musical festival known as Woodstock. This music festival was held in rural New York state in 1969 with an attendance of about 400,000 to 500,000 people who rocked to the music in support of love and sharing [10]. The 1960s also produced some of the greatest writers and artists such as Andy Warhol and his pop art [11]. Music, art, and literature helped depict the changes and new values of the 1960s. Aristotle says that, “the divine life, which surpasses all others in blessedness, consists of contemplation,” meaning that without contemplation one cannot achieve happiness and the divine life [12]. During the hippie movement individuals were very focused on themselves and their spirituality, which meant they were able to contemplate about their lives and how to live in harmony with the rest of society [13]. They express their contemplation through these various forms of art mentioned earlier as well as seeking time to meditate and reflect on oneself.

In John Stuart Mill’s reading, Utilitarianism, he says that personal happiness can be achieved through sacrificing for one’s community. A selfish person can never achieve happiness because his life is insufficient without caring for others [14]. This idea of Mill’s correlates well with the hippies surge for peace and love because during this movement they were fighting for unity which shows they cared for others. However, hippies promoted the recreational use of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, justifying the usage as a way of expanding consciousness which Mill would not agree with. Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD, recalls the effects it had on his perception as follows, “In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed, I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscope play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.” [15] Taking this drug traps them in a bubble which masks them from the outside world and creates the idea that anyone can be virtuous. By taking drugs like these individuals are getting a “quick fix” in order to avoid pain and suffering while maintaining pleasure. The hippies’ use of drugs contradicts the basic principles that form the utilitarian society. Utilitarianism stresses the importance of feeling pain while the drugs help individuals avoid pain. John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian society calls for authentic happiness which not only can be found through truth but also satisfies man [16]. The hippie movement does not agree with John Stuart Mill’s views of happiness for many reasons but above all it is because the hippies do not believe in suffering or pain, only peace and love. By taking hallucinogenic drugs they are depriving themselves of feeling true emotions and therefore creating only an illusion of happiness in Mill’s views.

The hippie movement has since declined but the core values of the counterculture movement remain. Philosophers, Aristotle and John Stuart Mill’s, teachings and beliefs that attempt to fulfill the end goal of happiness are similar but neither completely answers the question of whether happiness is only an illusion. The hippie movement aligns more so with Aristotle’s philosophy on happiness and even gives a pretty good depiction of what a society that is able to attain happiness looks like. Today’s society has strayed from the idea that materialistic items do not create true happiness, nor unite us as a community. In order for us to start seeing true happiness we need to look back on the hippie movement and begin to live more in the moment; interacting, loving, uniting and caring for others. One probably would never imagine the 1960s to be compatible with Aristotle’s views but the two share many of the same viewpoints on life and happiness.

Bibliography

Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

Mill, John Stuart. “Selection from Chapter 2.” In Utilitarianism. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

Clark, Molly. “Hippie Culture.” Tangient LLC. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://blastfrompast.wikispaces.com/Hippie+Culture>

Gregoire, Carolyn. “What The 1960s Got Right About Health, Happiness And Well-Being.” Huffington Post. November 22, 2012. Accessed April 4, 2015. <https://bearmarketreview.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/the-wealth-of-the-fast-food-nation/>

Tritschler, Olivia. “Pro/Con: Was society better in the 1960s when peace and love was promoted.” Hot Topix Theme. November 8, 2010. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://trnwired.org/2010/11/procon-was-society-better-in-the-1960s-when-peace-and-love-was-promoted/ >

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Hippie (subculture).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. November 18, 2014. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266600/hippie>

“Drug Influence.” Peace, Love and Beyond-Weebly. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://peaceloveandbeyond.weebly.com/drug-culture.html>

Footnotes

[1] Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

[2] Mill, John Stuart. “Selection from Chapter 2.” In Utilitarianism. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

[3] Clark, Molly. “Hippie Culture.” Tangient LLC. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://blastfrompast.wikispaces.com/Hippie+Culture>

[4] Tritschler, Olivia. “Pro/Con: Was society better in the 1960s when peace and love was promoted.” Hot Topix Theme. November 8, 2010. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://trnwired.org/2010/11/procon-was-society-better-in-the-1960s-when-peace-and-love-was-promoted/ >

[5] The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Hippie (subculture).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. November 18, 2014. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266600/hippie>

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

[10] The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Hippie (subculture).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. November 18, 2014. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266600/hippie>

[11] Tritschler, Olivia. “Pro/Con: Was society better in the 1960s when peace and love was promoted.” Hot Topix Theme. November 8, 2010. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://trnwired.org/2010/11/procon-was-society-better-in-the-1960s-when-peace-and-love-was-promoted/ >

[12] Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

[13] Clark, Molly. “Hippie Culture.” Tangient LLC. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://blastfrompast.wikispaces.com/Hippie+Culture>

[14] Mill, John Stuart. “Selection from Chapter 2.” In Utilitarianism. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

[15] “Drug Influence.” Peace, Love and Beyond-Weebly. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://peaceloveandbeyond.weebly.com/drug-culture.html>

[16] Mill, John Stuart. “Selection from Chapter 2.” In Utilitarianism. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

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One thought on “Is happiness a mere illusion?

  1. Interesting topic. You bring up some legitimate points of concordance with Aristotle, but you do not consider the significant ways in which they differ, most importantly their promotion of drugs. You get Mill exactly backwards when you say he thinks pain is important. Looking at his definition of happiness it is easy to see that he defines it as “pleasure and the ABSENCE of pain.” It is Aristotle who would see it as key if it helps the formation of character through virtue. The paper leaves Aristotle’s focus on virtue, which is quite demanding and not entirely compatible with hippie culture. Finally, it is anachronistic to argue that the hippies supported same-sex marriage. The idea that there could be such a thing was not on the radar even of hippies at that time, even those who did not shun same sex relationships.

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