Brooke Badger – Period 5
According to philosopher Aristotle, happiness is equivalent to a life in which we exercise our capacity to reason to a full extent and it has also been said that “happiness depends on ourselves.” Aristotle believed that our purpose in life revolves around reaching the desired end goal: happiness. In Aristotle’s book The Nicomachean Ethics, he states that happiness is “believed to be the most desirable thing in the world,” and being self-sufficient is the final good.  If this is indeed the case, then why are so many people in our developed world today so unhappy?
Also in Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle claims: “He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods…throughout a complete life.”  More often than not, people strive to attain as many goods, pleasures, and riches because they think the more money and material things they have, the more happiness they will receive in return; but, in the defense of every eighteen year old senior attending high school in Dallas, Texas, – when have we learned any differently? We are taught at a young age that appearance and the material things you own – what car you drive, what toys you have, what clothes you wear, how big your house is, or even how many likes you get on Instagram – determine your societal rank, therefore pinpointing how happy you will be for the remainder of your time in the confined North Dallas bubble.
With these influences pinning children, teenagers, and even adults from every direction, is living a life through Aristotle’s definition of happiness possible anymore?
Growing up in the United States, my perception of happiness often revolved around money and how much of it a person had. As a little girl, I was naive, believing the more money and material goods a person had, the happier they lived. Although I was repeatedly drilled by my parents with the well-known cliché that “money doesn’t buy you happiness,” I always took that saying with a grain of salt because in my adolescent mind, money COULD buy happiness! I have grown up and currently live in a stable and privileged family and we have always lived comfortably. I never knew the extent of poverty people lived in until my first mission trip to Nicaragua during the summer before my senior year.
The ten days I spent in Nicaragua opened my eyes to a conclusion: It IS possible to live out Aristotle’s definition of happiness and do it with close to nothing in regards to material goods. My expectations of what Nicaragua would be like were far from accurate. I had anticipated depression, no hope, and emptiness. What I encountered was joyfulness and an abundance of contentment with life. I envied the simplicity of living in Nicaragua and how little the people needed to feel happy.
In addition, my discovery of simplistic living as well as true happiness continued when I traveled to Uganda for two weeks in November.
In Nicaragua and Uganda, every person I interacted with, no matter gender or age, greeted me with an outlook unlike any I have encountered before – no matter what, they had faith and optimism for each day. The people of Uganda and Nicaragua lived every day to their fullest potential, which, as previously stated, is similar to Aristotle’s views that a happy life is a life in which we exercise our capacity to reason to a full extent.
My favorite experience from both trips was interacting with the children. The amount of life and character each child had in them regardless of their impoverished state was incredible and caused me to take a deep look at my own life and attitude. With every day, I unveiled a new truth or discovery about who I am as a person and who the people I was interacting with each day were as well. Pope Leo XIII expresses in Rerum Novarum that “Riches and the other things which men call good and desirable, whether we have them in abundance, or are lacking in them – so far as eternal happiness is concerned – it makes no difference,” reiterating that no amount of material possessions or wealth can result in absolute happiness.  During my time in Nicaragua and Uganda, I experienced the possibility of a child living a happy and content life WITHOUT an iPhone or iPad, designer shoes and clothes, expensive dinners, or a big, fancy home or car.
Instead, these people lived with a strong faith and gratitude for the more important things in life. The emphasis placed on religion, family, and loved ones I experienced during my trips abroad provided me with eye-opening insight – awareness that life is too short to preoccupy time with worrying about having cuter clothes or a nicer car than the girl who sits across from me in my macroeconomics class (figuratively speaking). Gratitude is something taken very lightly in America, but in Uganda and Nicaragua, people appreciate and give thanks for everything. The appreciative and elated reactions we received after working to rebuild a weathered church, playing soccer with the children for four hours, or embarrassing ourselves trying to cook the native food exemplified how much the little things in life and simply our presence meant to the people we spent time with.
The teachers and chaperones expressed that returning home from these types of journeys creates challenges, but I didn’t believe them. I figured that returning to Dallas would be a piece of cake, that I would easily transfer all of my new outlooks back to home with me. For several weeks after my return home, living as the “new Brooke” felt easy – I was passionate about making a difference in my home life and talking nonstop about all of the life-changing experiences I had in Nicaragua and Uganda.
Unfortunately, as expected, too soon after my return from my trips, my former “first-world” habits and behaviors returned. I became annoyed and confused. I knew it was not because the people I met or the experiences I encountered weren’t extremely significant to me, but rather because my life in America did not allow for time to reminisce and grow from the period I spent in Nicaragua or Uganda – my life in America never stops moving, and this is a problem not only with me, but with our society
People in America live to achieve a large amount of possessions and wealth, believing that these will fix all of their problems and worries. Because life in one of the most industrialized countries in the world never stops moving, people lose out on opportunities to discover the truly important things in life, as well as truths about other countries in our world. The common stereotype that all “third-world” countries live miserable, depressed lives because of how little they possess is far from accurate. I now know this firsthand. In reality, these people are some of the happiest I have ever met in my entire life. In no means am I saying that the people in Uganda and Nicaragua don’t imagine what a life with constant hot water, food supply, ample spending money, or more than one bed for their family would be like, but maybe this thinking causes them to live with the attitude they have. Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical states that “The true worth and nobility of man lie in his moral qualities.”  Although these people living in impoverished countries realize that they could have more money, more possessions, or a better situation, they also appreciate and recognize that a happy and memorable life is possible without material goods, therefore cultivating some of the most honorable qualities and mindsets I can imagine.
The million-dollar question in our world will always revolve around what “true happiness” is or how to live the best life possible. Unfortunately, in today’s society we have drifted far away from Aristotle’s path to happiness and the so called “best life possible”. I speak on behalf of the world I live in, my North Dallas bubble, because although I feel as if the bubble I live in has wandered far from the yellow brick road to happiness, in places such as Uganda and Nicaragua…they are certainly right on course…
- Pursuit of Happiness
- Nichomachean Ethics
- Rerum Novarum
Holzer, Allison. “Aristotle.” Pursuit of Happiness. http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/aristotle/ (accessed December 1, 2015).
“The Nicomachean Ethics.” Aristotle in How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch, ed. Mr. Aparicio, Ursuline Academy, 2015.
“Rerum Novarum.” Pope Leo XIII in How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch, ed. Mr. Aparicio, Ursuline Academy, 2015.