What Kind of Happiness is Canada Promoting?

canada blogAshley Wood Period 6 HB

What is happiness? How can we achieve it? Can a society promote a single view of individual happiness in its culture? These are all important questions that many have tried to figure out for thousands of years. Many people have attempted to define individual happiness with specifics, but the truth is, it is impossible to account for every single person who lived, lives, and will live on Earth and what makes them happy. For some, it could be material things and money while others might define their happiness by certain virtues, relationships, or accomplishments. If everyone has their own individual idea of what makes them happy, is it easier or more difficult to promote a single view of happiness? Would a country like Canada be able to properly encourage a view of happiness that compares to Aristotle’s view or to a Utilitarian view?

In the past years since it began in 2005, Canada has always been ranked very high on the annual list of happiest countries in the world. In order to give a numerical value to something abstract like happiness, a poll called the Gallup World Poll is conducted in which people living in 150 countries around the world are asked to rate their happiness on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest, 10 being the highest or happiest). In this poll, six main categories stand out as determining factors for happiness in a country. These factors are GDP per capita, life expectancy, perceived national corruption, freedom to make life choices, generosity of fellow citizens, and having someone to rely on in times of trouble. [1] In Canada specifically, freedom to make life choices, generosity of fellow citizens, and having someone to rely on in times of trouble proved to be of most importance when determining happiness.[2] Given this information, it would make sense to say that these influences are supported by Canada, and they are wholly promoted by the culture and those living there. The culture emphasizes a friendly and close-knit society motivated by good morals to do good. Social supports and personal freedom seem to be more important factors in individual happiness for most Canadians, rather than factors like income, worth, or other components that some think lead to true happiness.

According to Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics, happiness is a sufficient good and the final end. When he says it is the “final end”, he means that happiness is the ultimate end or goal that people try to achieve with whatever means they have. He defines it as “living well or doing well”.[3] Aristotle’s definition entails that individual happiness is “desired for itself, that it is not desired for the sake of anything else, that it satisfies all desire and has no evil mixed in with it, and that it is stable.” [4] With this rationale, it can be understood that happiness to Aristotelians is very personal and the end goal for everyone. Given that happiness is something that each individual seeks themselves, there is some disputation when it comes to deciding what exactly is good and makes for a happy life.

Utilitarian philosophy strongly emphasizes that anything that is useful and leads to happiness is considered good. As we learned earlier this semester, utility is found in everything that adds to the happiness of every human being.[5] Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill defines happiness from a utilitarian point of view, stating that the utilitarian standard “is not the agent’s own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether.” [6] In other words, believers of utilitarianism share the belief that individual happiness originates from the happiness of everyone in the community. John Stuart Mill also says, “if it may possibly be doubted whether a noble character is always the happier for its nobleness, there can be no doubt that it makes other people happier, and that the world, in general, is immensely a gainer by it”.[7] This type of thinking means that if someone has more of something abstract than someone else, like nobleness, for example, they are not happier than that other person because their nobleness and actions make others happy; ultimately, it ends up bringing more happiness into the world.

The majority of Canadian citizens who responded to the Gallup World Poll showed that the freedom to make life choices was a significant contributing factor to their level of happiness. Since living in America for almost my whole life and being an American citizen, I can say that I am very lucky to have my freedoms, and I often take them for granted. Having the freedom to choose between candidates or the freedom to speak one’s mind can contribute to their happiness because freedom allows an individual to grow from within and learn more about themselves and their culture. Having the freedom to make life choices is compatible with the Aristotelian philosophy of individual happiness because it promotes doing whatever means necessary to reach the most important end, happiness. If someone is being controlled too much by a government, that person will have difficulty striving for good that could be different from someone else’s. With the freedom to make life choices, “the same man [who] is of different minds at different times” can find happiness in different things.[8] John Stuart Mill was a strong advocate for the freedom of speech and women’s rights.[9] With these kinds of privileges, people are going to be happy and feel more independent. Having the freedom to make life choices is also compatible with the Utilitarian philosophy.

An important contributing element to the happiness of Canadians is the generosity of fellow citizens. Having a strong community that will help a neighbor out not only makes that individual happier, but also the individual who takes action to help will be happier. Two ways in which Aristotle believes happiness can be acquired is by learning it or obtaining it by chance. [10] It sounds like these methods are typically acquired individually. The social aspects of life are what seem to lead to Canadian residents’ happiness because generosity encourages reciprocation. Given this, the Canadian view of happiness could possibly be compatible with the Aristotelian view in the sense that being generous all the time is a learned habit that leads to happiness. This generosity of fellow citizens in the community that contributes to the happiness of Canadians is compatible with the Utilitarian view more wholly than the Aristotelian philosophy because it encompasses the fundamental standard that individual happiness comes from everyone else’s happiness. To Canadians, by giving something, whether it be material things or abstract things like time, to someone else, a certain type of happiness within the environment is encouraged.

Having someone to rely on in times of trouble heavily influences the happiness of Canadians, according to the Gallup World Poll. That type of reassurance and trust within the community is promoted by the Canadian culture because they understand that it is very difficult to be happy when one is in danger or any sort of vulnerable state. The Aristotelian philosophy on individual happiness is defined by living well and doing good things that are means in which happiness is the end. Aristotle states that man is the happiest when he uses his exercise of reason – the “speculative [or contemplative] life.”[11] By allowing man to use his exercise of reason, he can make his own decisions that lead to his happiness. This view is not particularly compatible with the view of life and happiness promoted in Canada because one’s exercise of reason affects individual happiness. It may not encourage helping someone else when they need assistance if the person with the ability to help lives a contemplative life that centers around the individual. According to the utilitarian philosophy related to the view of life and happiness, the most important thing is the happiness of everyone, not just the individual. Given this, the Canadian’s view of happiness in regards to being there to build up each other’s happiness in times of trouble is compatible with the utilitarian view.

No matter what, it will probably always be difficult to come up with a single definition for happiness. Even though it has multiple different interpretations based on culture, personal experiences, morals, religion, mixes of more than one of these components, and many other factors, true individual happiness can be achieved through hard work and making the right decisions. Upon investigating Canada’s view of happiness and how the Canadian culture has promoted it throughout the years, I think it is most compatible with the Utilitarian view on life. The Canadian tendency to measure happiness more by freedoms, social ties, and the sense of help being there when it is needed, rather than by wealth or income, coincides with the Utilitarian view of a more communistic happiness as the ultimate goal.

[1] CBC News. “Canada Ranks 6th in Global Happiness Survey.” CBCnews.

[2] See note 1

[3] Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics.

[4] “Notes on Nicomachean Ethics.” University of Notre Dame.

[5]  “Utilitarian Philosophy.” Utilitarian Philosophy.

[6] Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism.

[7] See note 5

[8] See note 3

[9] See note 5

[10] See note 3

[11] See note 3

Works Cited

Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics.

CBC News. “Canada Ranks 6th in Global Happiness Survey.” CBCnews. 2013. Accessed May 02, 2016. http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/canada-ranks-6th-in-global-happiness-survey- 1.1702281.

CBC News. “Two-thirds of Canadians Are ‘Pretty Happy'” CBC News. February 01, 2016. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/canadians-happy-survey-1.3406124.

Driver, Julia. “The History of Utilitarianism.” Stanford University. 2009. Accessed May 04,http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/utilitarianism-history/.

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism.

“Notes on Nicomachean Ethics.” University of Notre Dame. Accessed May 02, 2016. http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/180/nicomach.htm.

“Utilitarian Philosophy.” Utilitarian Philosophy. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://utilitarianphilosophy.com/definition.eng.html.

Belcher, Nancy Hoyt. Digital image. The New Yorker. December 14, 2015. Accessed May 05, 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/fleeing-president-trump-welcome-canada.

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