Natalie Frieze Period 1 Honobound In today’s society, wealth seems to be everything. Most young people strive to be successful, but these days success is synonymous with wealth. If you ask someone what they want to do when they graduate college, they most likely will say to be successful. Success is typically categorized by wealth, and the more money you have, the more successful you are. However, it has been proved time and time again that wealth does not determine success. Someone can live a fulfilling life without being “rich.” In fact, Richard Easterlin published an article talking all about the lack of a correlation between income and personal happiness. And, richer countries do not necessarily report a higher level of happiness in their everyday lives (Does More Money Make You Happier?). Many times, emotional wealth is extremely more valuable than material wealth, and I would argue that morals are much more important than material success. Does material wealth have a direct correlation to happiness? Can one be happy without being wealthy? How does a society’s happiness depend on their wealth? How does the Aristotelian view of happiness depend on wealth?
In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he is trying to answer the question “What is the purpose of life?” He is trying to get to the bottom of this and provide a sensible reason for why humans exist, and what we are supposed to do in our time on earth. Aristotle answers this question in his work, and he says that happiness is the purpose, or end, to human existence (The Nicomachean Ethics). Aristotle discusses what ultimate happiness looks like and entails in his Nicomachean Ethics series. The question of what is happiness is something that philosophers have grappled with for years, and continue to. Happiness is not really something that anyone can explain, or make sense of, it is simply a feeling, and something that all people strive to have in their lives. However, Aristotle thinks he has figured out what happiness is, and how to achieve it. He writes about his thoughts in his best known work, The Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle’s philosophy deals with the end, or purpose, of all of our actions. He says that the good is that at which everything aims. He says, “Thus it seems that happiness is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does”(The Nicomachean Ethics). With this being said, Aristotle is saying that happiness is the ultimate goal of man, and everything a man does is in order to achieve happiness. If this is applied to life today, that would mean that every single decision anyone makes, either adds to or detracts from their eminent happiness—or lack thereof. Aristotle states that happiness is the supreme good (The Nicomachean Ethics). So, if this theory is correct, it should apply to any and all societies in existence today.
Firstly, let’s explore Great Britain, one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Of course, there is no definite unit of measure for happiness, but one way to determine if people are happy is by looking at the countries reported suicide rates. In 2013, The United Kingdom reported 6,233 suicides. These are the highest rates since 2001 (Varah). However, you absolutely cannot base an entire countries happiness of that countries suicide rates. Of course, someone who commits suicide is not reaching his or her end, and would not be in accordance with Aristotle’s views. On the other hand, The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, OCED, reported that, “The United Kingdom ranks above the average of the 36 countries in the dimensions of personal security, environmental quality, civic engagement, social connections, health status, income and wealth, jobs and earnings, housing, and subjective well-being, but below average in education and skills, and work-life balance”(Allen). With this being said, it looks like Great Britain is pretty well off on the happiness front. The happiness of the citizens of a country also highly depends on the rights of that country. The United Kingdom’s Human Rights Act, passed in 1998, gives citizens the right to the protection of their life, the right to freedom, the right to fair trial, freedom of speech and religion, the prohibition of torture, slavery, and discrimination, and the protection of property (The Human Rights Act). These rights seem very familiar to those in the United States. When humans have adequate rights, naturally they would be more secure and happy, with the peace of mind that they have basic human rights. With this being said, Great Britain’s rights definitely contribute to their citizens’ happiness, and I think that is a large factor into these statistics, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with wealth. Wealth allows people to indulge and find pleasure in material items, however, Aristotle says that “good cannot be pleasure, nor honor, nor virtue” (The Nicomachean Ethics). So, is Great Britain’s culture in discord with Aristotle’s view of happiness?
With sixty-three percent of its citizens living below the poverty line, Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries (Country Comparison to the World). In the World Happiness Report in 2013, it shows growth in the reported happiness in the country from 2005 to 2012. This study found that Liberia’s happiness increased by 0.495 on a scale of 1 to 10 in those 7 years. Ten being the happiest and one being the least happy. Liberia ended up being ranked at about a 4.5 on this scale. Liberia is incredibly impoverished, and its citizens still manage to report being happy. But, does Liberia live up to the Aristotelian view of happiness? Aristotle says that the point of human existence is to live in accordance to reason, so this would be a determining factor to whether or not the people of Liberia are happy (The Nicomachean Ethics). Do Liberian citizens live in line with reason and live just lives? I would argue that this aspect of Aristotle’s view is not affected by wealth at all. This is strictly a question of ethics, and whether or not someone has money, their ethics are up to them and their character. This question could knock out almost every country in the world, as Ethics do not necessarily translate among a whole entire country. Aristotle also talks about needing true riches to achieve happiness. These true riches include food, shelter, clothes, and other items necessary for survival (The Nicomachean Economics). However, this is difficult for the extremely poor. On average, a Liberia citizen earns about 370$ a year (Liberia). So, do you think it’s possible to achieve all these true riches while living off of 370$ a year? I think that would be extremely difficult, so it makes me question the possibility of these citizens reaching their end. In this way, wealth does affect happiness significantly. If money wasn’t an issue, of course all these true riches would be obtained. However, money can also detract for our happiness when we begin to indulge in unnecessary pleasures and temptations.
In conclusion, wealth does affect a nation’s happiness, in the sense that with the lack of basic human needs, or true riches as Aristotle says, there is no possible way citizens can be happy. With that being said, one does not have to wealthy to be able to provide for themselves, but they must make adequate money in order to support themselves and their families. On the other hand, having an excess of money leads to being less happy in terms of the Aristotelian view. Since an excess of money can lead to indulgences on unnecessary pleasures, and can veer one away from true riches, this is also a violation of Aristotle’s theory. So, after analyzing Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics I have come to the conclusion that money is necessary for happiness, but an excess of money makes one less happy. However, if Aristotle were alive today to determine the happiness of The United Kingdom and Liberia, he would probably say that neither of them are truly happy, and their societies are not doing their best to help their citizens reach their end.
Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics: Book I
Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics: Book 2
Allen, Katie. “Gross National Happiness – Can We Measure a UK Feelgood Factor?” The Guardian. 2014. Accessed May 03, 2016.
“Country Comparison to the World.” Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed May 03, 2016.
“Does More Money Make You Happier?” Psychology Today. Accessed May 03, 2016.
“Liberia.” Data. Accessed May 03, 2016.
“The Human Rights Act.” Liberty Human Rights. Accessed May 03, 2016.
Varah, Chad, Dr. “Suicide Statistics Report 2015.” Samaritans. Accessed May 03, 2016.