Aristotle, Wealth, and Happiness Oh My!

Elizabeth Lacey

What does it mean to be the “World’s Happiest Country” or the “World’s Saddest Country”? Ranked number six in Global Finance’s world’s richest countries (determined by their GDP based on purchasing-power-parity per capita), Norway has approximately 67,619.10 international dollars[1] and is also noted as one of the World’s happiest countries[2]. Burundi, on the other hand, is one of the world’s poorest countries, coming in with only 951.098 international dollars[3]. Other than being one of the poorest countries, it is also noted to be one of the ‘saddest’ countries in the World[4]. In comparing these two countries, we are able to see a clear answer to the question of whether or not each country’s society is allowing humans to achieve their good. This “good” in which we are speaking, can refer to many things, but in this case, it is referring to happiness.

In Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics, he tells us that all humans’ actions aim at something we consider good. In his case, this supreme good that we are aiming towards is happiness. Every action, either direct or indirect, aims towards this happiness. It is “final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does.”[5] Many things that we take part in end, and because of this, not all ends are final. Happiness, on the other hand, is the final goal. It is not something we aim towards to achieve something else. Once we are ultimately happy, there is nothing else we would need. While we understand that happiness is our end goal, we are still trying to understand what exactly happiness is today. Merriam-Webster defines happiness as the “state of being happy,” which leads you to define the word happy, which means “feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.”[6] In place of Aristotle giving us an exact definition, he supplies us with an outline of what happiness looks like and allows everyone else to fill it in for him or herself. The happiness that I ultimately strive for is much different than everyone else’s happiness that they strive for. Either way, through this reading we learn that everything humans do is in order to achieve happiness. Because this theory in which Aristotle speaks about applies to everyone, we are able to wonder if some countries allow their citizens to achieve this good more than others.

Norway’s GDP (at market prices), to begin, is currently at 499.8 billion US dollars, but it hasn’t always been that way.[7] Once noted as the “poor country” of Scandinavia, Norway has gotten back on its’ feet and has become one of the world’s richest countries. One reason Norway has gotten so wealthy because of their decision to “de-link its economy from oil revenues.”[8] By taking oil revenues out of the government’s responsibility and become a mixed economy, they are able to save a large portion of said revenues and add it to the Government Pension Fund-Global, which currently has a value of $900 billion. Another aspect that has greatly contributed to Norway’s success is their shipping. With the United Kingdom as one of their main export partners, they have paired up with many nations that allow great trade, bringing a large amount of business to their economy. Maybe another reason that Norway has a great economy is due to their reputation of being one of the world’s happiest countries.

While not only being one of the world’s richest countries, Norway has also been ranked as one of the world’s happiest countries for a consecutive amount of years. Clearly, there is reasoning behind this. First, we must answer what goes in to this determination. The factors that contribute to this are: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, perceptions of corruption, generosity, and freedom to make life choices.[9] Another factor that contributes to a country’s overall happiness is their suicide rates. Norway has an extremely low suicide rate of only 9.28 deaths in per every 100,000.[10] With a population of 5.137 million, this means that only 0.9 per cent (477 people) would commit suicide, which is an impressively low number.

Burundi, on the other hand, is one of the world’s poorest countries. The GDP (at market prices) is currently at 3.094 billion US dollars.[11] As a country, Burundi is extremely dependent on its agriculture to source the majority of jobs (80%).[12] With a population of 10.82 million, Burundi is also affected with overpopulation and soil erosion.[13] While soil erosion might not seem like a major setback, it is for a country whose population is extremely dependent on its land’s agriculture for food production and jobs. Overpopulation affects Burundi negatively, because even without an overpopulated country, they would still struggle providing jobs for everyone. Being the landlocked country in the middle of the Sub-Saharan desert, there are not many options when looking for jobs that provide enough resources for families. For many of these reasons, Burundi is ranked as one of the world’s saddest countries.

One of the main reasons that Burundi is noted to be one of the world’s saddest countries is due to the corruption that occurs. In the past year, there has been a large amount of unrest in the country. This spurred from Burundi’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza, announcing he was seeking a third term in office.[14] During this time, many protests have resulted in mass killings. Due to their lack of authority, Burundi government is struggling in controlling its citizens. Burundi also has one of the highest suicide rates per 100,000, coming in at 23.1. While this is only 0.0231 per cent of Burundi’s total population, the amount is abnormally high. Compared to Norway’s 9.28, this is extremely high. [15] Even though the government is trying its best in repairing the corruption, no progress has been made. While it is one of the saddest countries, it is impossible to say that those living in Burundi experience happiness; but it is important to remember that everyone’s happiness is different. For example, happiness in Burundi for an eighteen-year-old girl could be that she and her daughter did not die today and were able to find food to eat. We must ask ourselves if the society’s of each of these countries is doing its best in allowing their citizens in achieving what is good, which in this case is happiness.

Clearly, if Norway is ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world, their society is certainly allowing them to achieve their good. In contrast, one could also say that Burundi’s government is not assisting their citizen’s in achieving their good. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, this good is happiness. Norway is allowing their citizens to achieve their good by providing them necessary support. The Norwegian government has the ability to control their government in an authoritative manner without any negative effects. Burundi, on the other hand, is not. The citizens in Burundi are on their own, dealing with the corruption independently, and constantly scavenging for basic needs in order to survive. Based solely off of their rankings not only in wealth but also happiness, one could easily suggest that money is a large contributing factor to one’s overall happiness.

Even though Aristotle states that happiness is the final good, and it is what we all strive for, one could question this based off of the information provided above. While, the fact that we all aim at one final good is true, is it truly all we need? It is almost proven that countries with more money are most likely going to be happier than countries with not a lot of money. If Burundi miraculously got millions of dollars, they would automatically become happier. It would not make sense to say that money does not contribute to our happiness, but it is difficult to determine how much it affects it. Even though my ultimate happiness is different than the millions of people living in both Norway and Burundi, we all desire the same sort of happiness, the happiness that is the end of all means.


[1] Pasquali, Valentina. “The Richest Countries in the World.” Global Finance. Accessed May 03, 2016.

[2] “World’s Happiest Countries” CNN. Accessed May 02, 2016.

[3] Pasquali, Valentina. “The Poorest Countries in the World.” Global Finance. Accessed May 03, 2016.

[4] “The World’s Happiest and Saddest Countries.” Forbes. Accessed May 02, 2016.

[5] Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Ed. Aparicio, Bernardo. Dallas: Ursuline Academy, 2016.

[6] Merriam-Webster. Accessed May 03, 2016.

[7] “Norway” World Bank. Accessed May 04, 2016.

[8] “How is it that Norway is Rich and We’re Not?” Huffington Post. Accessed May 05, 2016.

[9] “World Happiness Report 2016 Update Ranks.” World Happiness Report. Accessed May 04, 2016.

[10] “Countries With The Most Suicides in the World.” World Atlas. Accessed May 05, 2016.

[11] “Burundi” World Bank. Accessed May 04, 2016.

[12] “Burundi.” Heritage. Accessed May 04, 2016.

[13] “Shrinking Lakes and Denude Forests.” IRIN News. Accessed May 03, 2016.

[14] “Burundi Elections: Pierre Nkurunziza Wins Third Term.” BBC News. Accessed May 04, 2016.

[15] “Countries With The Most Suicides in the World.” World Atlas. Accessed May 05, 2016.

Picture: “Aristotle Quote” Quote Fancy. Accessed May 05, 2016.


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