Is Your Happiness My Happiness

Is Your Happiness My Happiness? By: Lizzie Liese

            What is happiness? How do we define it? Is all happiness the same? Everyone has their own opinion on what happiness means and how to pursue it, but the real question that must be asked is what truly defines happiness? Is your happiness my happiness? What might seem to be a simple question is actually much more complex than it appears. Is it possible to put a label on true happiness? Or do humans even know what true, genuine happiness is; can it be achieved on earth? There are many different ways people measure happiness- so more superficial and materialistic than others. Let’s explore what it means to different people of diverse cultures to be happy.

Utilitarianism, by definition is “the belief that a morally good action is one that helps the greatest number of people.” [1] This means that every action that benefits a large number of people is morally good and creates happiness, correct? False. I’m not saying this view is wrong, per say, just that it does not completely encompass what many consider happiness. The textbook definition of happiness is “a state of well-being and contentment” which is open to interpretation, meaning there is not one definition of happiness that fits every person.[2] If happiness meant the same thing to everyone, imagine how boring and bland this world would be. Aristotle asks many of these same questions about happiness ad claims that the most valuable kind of happiness is that of which comes from a life of contemplation.[3] However, what does he base this on- his own experiences? If so, can it really be deemed as “happiness,” or is it, as Mr. Bauroth would say, opinion, not fact? Aristotle also raises the point that “happiness is the best thing in the world, yet a still more precise definition of it is needed.”[4] This is true of a lot of things- some of the best things, for lack of better words, have to loosest and worst descriptions and definitions. Maybe that is what makes them so wonderful- the lack of labeling and the open-ended definitions. Instead of arguing what happiness means, mankind should celebrate it’s different meanings. May Wynn, a character in The Caine Mutiny sums up happiness by saying that it is absence of happiness and that unhappiness is much easier to define.[5]

Traditionally, in Chinese culture, one was happy to have a good job that provided financial stability and supported one’s family. In other words, hard work was rewarded with “happiness.” This directly contradicts with Aristotle’s view. The Chinese view sustaining a somewhat comfortable life as happiness. Americans, on the other hand, have a more complex, not better defined, though, view of happiness. One issue associated with attaining happiness, in both cultures, is anxiety. People of very young ages constantly suffer with anxiety because of mental illness, home life, school, and many other reasons. So much stress and pressure is placed on young people that they never feel genuine happiness, even though the think they might. Because there is no definition of happiness, many people do not know when they are happy and therefore, search for happiness and overthink it, creating  unnecessary stress, which is why Aristotle’s opinion of the contemplative life being the happiest might appear incorrect to some.

Others view happiness as the possession of materials and money. While this can make one happy, it is not the pure source of happiness. In Nicaragua, the citizens work all day in the sun and walk miles to get home in the rain, yet they are still extremely happy. Happiness does not stem from one thing- it is the combination of many. A little bit of money provides comfortable living, friends provide social life and skills, food and drink provide health, and so on. It is not possible for one person to come up with a universal meaning of happiness- that is left for the individual to discover within himself or herself. So when we say we are happy, how can we expect another to fully understand what we mean? Do I view your happiness as my happiness, or do I somehow understand your view of happiness without words? So based on this question, is it possible to solve the issue of anxiety in the world today? Yes, all the solution requires is understanding. If humans try to understand others and relate to them, the world will be more peaceful, both physically and mentally. Instead of simply waiving people off or ignoring their issues or considering them miniscule compared to their own, everyone must accept that people all experience different things that affect them and the hurt or anxiety or happiness is all equal- one is not greater or better than the other.

Another view of happiness is surprise- something nice you were not expecting. Another person claims that it is being pain free. How does one achieve a pain free life? To be happy, according to most people, you must have a good job, and home, and relationships with others. However, to get to this happy place, you must attend school, which, many times causes pain and anxiety. So is happiness is a vicious cycle because without being unhappy, one does not feel happy. Therefore, indirectly happiness inflicts pain because the only way to gage happiness is off of unhappiness. Is happiness worth the pain? Why not just live a boring, simple, pain free life without said happiness? Because, happiness spices up human’s lives. It would be extremely monotonous to go through the same exact motions every day without feeling an ounce of happiness. Life would not be worth living.

This leads to my next point- to Americans, happiness is a presence of emotions, but to the Chinese, happiness is not so closely associated with deep emotional feeling.[6] Americans focus on emotion more than a lot of societies do, which is why they have such drastic ups and downs. While this can be seen as a negative quality, it also allows for a deeper sense of compassion and empathy. It helps humanity care for everyone. However, with a lack of emotion, the Chinese are able to focus more on themselves and their individual happiness. Along with this idea, is the point that some people are introverts and some are extroverts. Introverts’ happiness is more along with the Chinese culture because they focus on their personal happiness and peace. But, extroverts’ happiness is personal and external, going along with the American view. With this being said, the American view of happiness parallels more with the Utilitarianism view that happiness is based on what greatly helps the majority of people and is the most useful.

To some up all of these ideas, happiness is interpreted very differently among different people and it is not fully possible to understand somebody else’s’ happiness; rather, humans associate whatever makes them happy when they think of happiness. It is not possible to put only one label on the meaning of happiness. People must be understanding of others and realize that their opinion is not always in accordance with someone else’s. Happiness is a general term with many deep meanings that not all people can understand. The key to human’s ultimate happiness is being tolerant, pursuing dreams, and living a life that interests them. As proven, Americans, Chinese, and Aristotle are only three of the many opinions of happiness in this world. If humans accept others and their dreams and definitions of happiness, it will be a peaceful world.

[1] Merriam-Webster. Accessed May 03, 2016. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/utilitarianism.

[2] Merriam- Webster

[3] Aristotle, and Martin Ostwald. Nicomachean Ethics. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962.

[4] Aristotle

[5] “Happiness in Chinese Culture.” Happiness in Chinese Culture. Accessed May 03, 2016.

[6] Sze, David. “How Americans and Chinese Think About Happiness Differently.” The Huffington Post. Accessed May 03, 2016.

“Happy Habits: 12 Habits to Improve Your Overall Happiness in Life.” Wanderlust Worker. Accessed May 05, 2016.
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