Is Happiness the Ultimate Good?

Faith Cicardo, Per. 6, Honorbound-In some of the readings that have been discussed in class, many focus on how society is helping humans achieve good. Some like Aristotle, Mill, Pope, Leo XIII, and Marx have all pondered this question. One particular author that has focused on this topic extensively is Aristotle, in The Nicomachean Ethics. Today, the human version of “good” is often skewed. Money, power, greed, lust, jealousy, and anger are just a few feelings and things that can cloud our judgement as to what is good. For instance, many television shows depict the classic situation of when fathers work too much and miss out on family memories and moments. By the end of this cliché representation, the father realizes that he has put money above what matters most—his family. This is the same situation that happens with many other people, not just with money and with fathers. In today’s world, people put what they want over what they truly need, which ends in disaster. Although this is the situation that many Americans find themselves in, citizens in a country like Burundi regard other things as “good” and hold them to a higher standard than Americans do. Despite the fact that Burundi and America both have different things that they believe is “good” and helps humans achieve their ultimate good.

So what does Aristotle consider to be good? How can we, as humans of the earth no matter where we live, strive to be good and achieve our ultimate good? First of all, Aristotle believes that “every act and purpose, seems to aim at some good,” meaning that all of the actions that we take and everything that humans do is aimed to be good1. Aristotle seems to have a positive outlook on humans then, if he believes that we all do everything we do to create some good. Aristotle also considers three different types of lifestyles—the life of enjoyment, the life of the statesmen, and the contemplative life. Although Aristotle goes through each different types of life, he ultimately considers the contemplative life when looking at what it means to be “good.”1 Aristotle states that “if then there be one end of all that man does, this end will be the realizable good.”1 So, what is the end of all that man does? Ultimately, Aristotle settles on the fact that “happiness is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does,”1 meaning that happiness is the ultimate good. To be good, countries like America and Burundi have to do what makes them happy. But what makes America happy? What makes Burundi happy? These two different countries have different things that make them happy, which leads to their ultimate good according to Aristotle.

In the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness is a right that each American is entitled to, no matter who they are2. So what exactly makes Americans happy? Through these things, Americans can reach the goal of being good. The biggest factor in what makes an American happy is their health2. Unhealthy people are about 8.25 percent more unhappy than healthy people, who are 20 percent happier than average2. The next factor that influences happiness in America is marriage2. Those who are married are 10 percent happier than those who are not married2. Personal income also plays a small role, with those earning within the highest income bracket in the country reporting to be about 3.5 percent happier than average2. Some students at Ursuline Academy, one being Kara Austin, reported that “money, power, and glory” makes them the happiest. According to multiple statistics, Americans try to reach their ultimate good through health, marriage, and personal income2.

Although Americans consider health, marriage, and income things that help themselves reach their ultimate good, there are citizens in Burundi who are unhappier because of some of the same reasons3. Burundi is a small, landlocked country in sub-Saharan Africa4. Burundi has a total population of about 10.3 million people as well. Burundi’s economy is extremely poor, with a GDP of 770 dollars. The life expectancy in Burundi is also extremely low. Men live on average for about 54 years, and women live on average for about 58 years. According to the World Happiness Report, Burundi was reported to be the least happiest country in the world. The report measures happiness according to social support, years of life expectancy in good health, freedom to make life decisions, perceptions of corruption in government and business, generosity marked by resident’s charitable donations, and per capita gross domestic product. Although these standards are different than the standards in America, Burundi comes in last on the happiness scale. The President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza announced in 2015 that he would seek a third term, despite the country’s constitution. The announcement of his decision has created even more unhappiness, which has led to the deaths of 400 people and at least 230,000 refugees fled the country. In 1962, Burundi gained independence, but it has been plagued by tension between the Hutu majority and the dominant Tutsi minority. The 12 year, ethnic-based civil war has majorly hurt Burundi. The media in Burundi is also self-censored and government censorship occasionally. The president also approved a new media law which forbids reporting on news that could “undermine national security, public order of the economy.” Burundi is an unhappy country because of their economy, their government, and political unrest.4

Despite the fact that Burundi and America are totally different places, America is able to continue the ultimate good for themselves due to becoming happier through health, marriage, and income. Burundi’s level of happiness, however, is extremely low due to civil war, poor economic standards, and low life expectancy4.  Although America is happier than Burundi, is America reaching its ultimate good? In Aristotle’s opinion, America is reaching its ultimate good. But in the eyes of many American’s today, they believe that the government is corrupt, the economy is tanking, and that social issues from years ago are still relevant today. So even though that Aristotle states that the ultimate good in life is reaching happiness, many things that are detrimental to humans can be considered “good” if it helps reach the feeling of happiness, according to Aristotle1. If Hitler claimed that killing millions of people made him happy, would Aristotle consider what Hitler did to be good? Could bad actions be justified, in Aristotle’s view, by just saying that they make others happy? These are all questions to consider when taking in to account what Aristotle states in The Nicomachean Ethics and when looking at the happiness level of each country.

Despite the fact that Aristotle states that our ultimate good is based on happiness, I believe that it depends on the situation. Using Aristotle’s point of view, many could argue that anything in the world could be considered good if it makes at least someone happy. Aristotle does not take into account the moral consequences of his statement. Despite the fact that statistically America is happier than Burundi, both societies could be considered detrimental to the country and its citizens, in my opinion. Even though my opinion opposes Aristotle’s opinion, I truly believe that America has many more problems that Aristotle does not take into account that make it harder for America’s society to be considered good. If Aristotle saw America’s society today, would he consider it to be a good society that helps the good of the people? Would he change his opinion, or would the current situation that Burundi is in reinforce his opinion? Even though Burundi is obviously suffering, there are underlying problems in America that could affect the ultimate good that the society provides. America, despite having reports of a happy reputation, could be considered bad due to the fact that many are so unhappy because many put what they want above what they need, in Aristotle’s point of view. Although Burundi and America both are at different ends of the happiness spectrum, their societies could both be considered detrimental to their citizens, due to the many problems that Burundi faces and the underlying issues of America’s modern society.

1Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.” How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch. Accessed May 5, 2016.

2Person, and Emerging Technology from the ArXiv. “Statisticians Reveal What Makes America Happy.” MIT Technology Review. 2012. Accessed May 05, 2016.

3Pantazi, Chloe. “The 19 Unhappiest Countries in the World.” Business Insider. 2016. Accessed May 05, 2016.

4Bender, Jeremy. “Inside the World’s Unhappiest Country.” Business Insider. 2016. Accessed May 05, 2016.

5“Burundi Country Profile.” BBC News. Accessed May 05, 2016.


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