The Overwhelming Power of Happiness
It seems that happiness in this day and age is something that everyone wants, but is not always very easy to grasp and hold onto. Worldwide, societies struggle with the idea of creating a happy place to live while staying strong economically. Happiness and economics do not seem like they would go hand in hand, but Aristotle, along with John Mill, help make this connection a little more clear. When considering the concept of happiness, one might think of pure bliss, joy, and everything someone could want in life. Then when the idea of an economy is considered, one might think of money, government, politics, and a whole slew of things. To join these two concepts together may seem impossible, but that is where Aristotle plays a role. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, teaches that happiness is an objective, not a feeling, and that “good is the final end, and happiness is this” (i). After reading what Aristotle has to say, a reader can understand that happiness can be achieved by searching for what is good. Relating this to a society or an economy in general may seem difficult, but take the United Kingdom for example. After a government poll was taken, the majority of the society ranked national happiness more important than national wealth. This powerful statistic must be pleasing to Aristotle.
In the United Kingdom, a YouGov poll commissioned by Action for Happiness showed that 87% of adults living in the UK preferred “the greatest overall happiness and well-being” over “the greatest over all wealth” of the society which only received an 8% preference. From this pool, it is clear that this society thinks highly of the happiness of the individuals living in it. In today’s world, money and power seem to override the idea of happiness. Wealth of nations and a strong economy has become a kind of competition and the main focus of societies today. The United Kingdom lives up to the Aristotle value of happiness being the final end. It was not only just one age group or location that felt this way in this society; people of all different ages, regions of the country, and different social classes. After the poll was taken, the people of the nation were asked to choose changes that the society could undergo to increase happiness all around. The most answered option was more equality between the rich and the poor. Other changes included improving health services and improving school standards and transportation. Another aspect of this poll called for choosing important factors for individual happiness, which brought up the idea of relationships with partners and family, and then close behind, individual’s health. Action for Happiness’ Director Dr. Mark Williamson said that “[they] need to spend less time focusing on the size of the economy and more time focusing on how to help people live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives” (ii). This nation’s top priority is the overall happiness of its people and establishing a more trusted society. Clearly the United Kingdom views life as something that should fully live up to the standards of happiness, and this particular culture promotes this concept. These views are compatible with an Aristotelian view of individual happiness.
When reviewing Aristotle’s concept of happiness, he finds that it fits this description: “we always choose it for itself and never for the sake of something else” (iii). It is self-sufficing and is to be seen as something final. In the United Kingdom, this is their main focus. Of course politics, government, and a stable economy remain very important and a top priority, the people of the society have made it evident that happiness is most important to them. The people want to live more satisfactory lives and pay close attention to happiness as the big picture.
The UK government has been continuously working on producing surveys and tests to gage the happiness factor of the society as a whole and on an individual basis. Back in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to measure the “general well-being” of the society with the help of the Office of National Statistics. The goal of this is to measure people’s psychological and environmental well-being to be able to monitor happiness. With this, “the aim is to produce a fresh set of data to be published – at a frequency to be decided – that assesses the psychological and physical well-being of people around the UK” (iv). With the data, there is a call to action. Once collected, the data is used to inform policy choices.
On another note, there is the view of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority. It can also be stated as the doctrine that an action is right insofar as it promotes happiness, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct. In John Stuart Mill’s ‘Utilitarianism,’ he states that “utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in the proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (v). Utilitarianism can help provide an answer to a question like ‘what should man do?’ The outcome should produce the best consequences for individuals or societies as a whole. In his writing, Mill says that “it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied,” focusing on the worth of human beings. The worth of the human goes hand in hand with their happiness. Focusing again on the United Kingdom, Francis Hutcheson, a British theorist, analyzed the action of finding the greatest happiness. Along with that, he proposed a form of “moral arithmetic” to be able to calculate the best consequences of this happiness. The UK emphasizes the idea of Mill’s view on utilitarianism in its society today.
The United Kingdom’s government has a Prime Minister, a Deputy Prime Minister, and a Cabinet. It is a monarchial system. With this, the government focuses on economic issues and stand points for the culture, but as stated before, the overall wellbeing of the nation is a key priority, especially to Prime Minister David Cameron. In a monarchy, the king or queen is Head of State, and Britain is a constitutional monarchy. The Sovereign is Head of State, but the power to make and pass legislation lies with an elected Parliament. The Monarch of course oversees constitutional and representational duties, but also has a role as “Head of Nation.” This means that the Sovereign acts as a national identity, giving a sense of stability, success, and excellence.
Now, because the United Kingdom is made up of four countries, it has very special cultural aspects. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all part of the United Kingdom, and all bring something different to the table when it comes to the society as a whole. As mentioned previously, the YouGov poll taken was the United Kingdom as a whole and was not just one of these countries. Throughout this society, a very crowded and populated society, people tend to stick to themselves and quietly leave others alone. This is not to say it is done in a rude manner, but part of it is focusing on individual happiness and not getting caught up with others around them. This culture has many aspects that play a part in the larger formation of the nation as a whole.
Happiness in the British culture lives up to Aristotelian standards of individual’s happiness and so does utilitarianism which Mill discusses. These two pieces of work are easily connected and relatable to the society of the United Kingdom. Action for Happiness plays a significant role in the UK which sends a positive message to other cultures. Focusing on happiness and the well-being of the population is just as important, if not more important, as the stability of the economy. These Aristotelian values, along with what Mill teaches, are integrated in the society of the United Kingdom and allow for individuals to live happy lives.
i. Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.” In How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch. Dallas, Texas.
ii. “National Happiness Matters More than National Wealth.” Action for Happiness. March 19, 2014. Accessed May 2, 2015.
iii. Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.” In How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch. Dallas, Texas.
iv. Stratton, Allegra. “Happy Index to Gauge Britain’s National Mood.” The Guardian. November 14, 2010. Accessed May 2, 2015.
v. John Stuart Mill. “Utilitarianism.” In How to Find Happiness Without A Free Lunch.
“The Role of the Monarchy.” The Official Website of the British Monarchy. Accessed May 2, 2015.