Were the hippies on the right path to achieving happiness?

Hannah Buckley. “Be happy.” “The key to life is happiness.” “Happiness is a choice.” “Don’t worry, be happy.” These are all phrases that we hear in our daily lives. The world is filled with so many different people who have different cultures, beliefs, values, religions and more but the overarching desire of human beings is happiness. There have been many different attempts throughout the past century to achieve happiness by breaking out of social norms and trying new practices within daily life. Some of these attempts were made during the Roaring 20s when partying and flappers were idolized by society after most people had rebelled against their parents’ conservative beliefs and the alcohol restriction laws, the 60s when the hippie counterculture movement began which promoted peace and love, in current day’s society where the focus is on creating more technology improvements in order to further the quality of life, and during other time periods. The hippie counterculture movement made a lasting mark to many because of its strong focus on peace and because of the significant emphasis on happiness. Happiness is something that is very difficult to universally define; yet, universally, it is desired. The hippie movement used ideas such as being free, being yourself, doing what makes you feel good, embarrassing love, spreading peace and harmony, and seeing life from different perspectives by growing one’s consciousness  all to define a certain idea of what happiness consists of.[1]  There have been a variety of ideas created by different cultures, social groups, philosophers, professors, and daily people of what happiness truly is. Certain societies and social groups have ideas that are compatible with popular views of happiness such as the Aristotelian and Utilitarian ideals, two highly valued viewpoints of happiness. The hippie counterculture movement consists of pieces of both of these ideas. Although some of the movement’s actions went against some of the Aristotelian and Utilitarian ideas of happiness it’s worth asking the question: Were the hippies the closest social group to practicing a lifestyle in the most accordance with these ideas of happiness?

The hippie movement began in the 1960s during a time when the country was at war with Vietnam and when the country had many conservative ideas. Hippies wanted to break away from their parents’ conservative ideas of life and focus on doing what made them feel good, because in their minds it didn’t matter what the consequences for their actions were as long as pleasure was brought out from them. They promoted peace and were against violence within society and politics, especially in accordance with the weapons and fighting in the Vietnam War.  Hippies focused on personal freedom and indulged in anything that made them feel good such as sex, drugs, and music. The psychedelic music most hippies listened to represented their lifestyles that were free from constraint. Drugs were very popular during this time period, specifically hallucinogens, because hippies wanted to expand their minds and consciousness. Hippies believed in acting selflessly and doing what is good for others by spreading love and peace. They had strong respect for nature and animals which resulted with more vegetarians and more attention drawn to the environment. They avoided owning lots of possessions and being materialistic along with focusing on wealth. Hippies also lacked many possessions so that they could travel easily.  The Hippie movement’s overall arching focus was on living a life filled with happiness and finding meaning to it.  [2]

In many ways, these actions are in accordance with John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism, where Mill claims that “happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain.” [3] Mill’s discusses the Greatest Happiness Principle which defines the nature of actions. This creed promotes the idea that actions are right or good if they cause happiness and wrong or evil if they cause unhappiness. Also, this principle dictates that the end goal is a life that lacks as much pain as it can and contains as many enjoyments as possible.  This supports the hippies’ role in the sexual revolution and their value of music because of the pleasure they experienced from these acts. Although hippies were highly invested in drugs, they refrained from the usage of drugs that caused harm and could be overused such as heroin and amphetamines. [4]This is also in accordance with the Greatest Happiness Principle because hippies were avoiding any drugs that would result in pain. The hippies’ value of self-development and improvement and support of others is also supported by the Utilitarian belief that the greatest good a human can do it one that is selfless and sacrificing for the good of others. They practiced out their beliefs by living as communities and focusing on what was best for the group as a whole before thinking of themselves. In my opinion, John Stuart Mill would be pleased by the mentality of the hippies and would be supportive of this way of living.

As it has been supported that the hippie movement mirrored many of Mill’s ideas in relation to Utilitarianism, it is still important to go back to part of the initial question. We have to ask ourselves, how does the hippie counterculture movement relate to the Aristotelian view of happiness. Aristotle views happiness as an action of man preforming his function in accordance with reason, and to take that idea a step further “it is the reason that in the truest sense is the man, the life that consists in the exercise of the reason is the best and pleasantest for man—and therefore the happiest.”[5] In relation to Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics, the hippies’ idea of pleasure as the source of happiness is discredited by the Aristotelian indication that “men not unreasonably take their notions of the good or happiness from the lives actually led, and that the masses who are the least refined suppose it to be pleasure, which is why they aim at nothing higher than the enjoyment of life.”[6] This relates to the hippies because they were a large group that was focused on not being confined by societies norms, explaining why it makes sense that they were led to the conclusion that pleasure was the end goal to being happy. A life centered on enjoyment is good, but pleasure is only a piece of happiness, it is not the completed final end. Therefore the Aristotelian view would not consider the hippie counterculture movement’s idea of pleasure as the means of obtaining happiness as accurate. However, there are other pieces of the hippie lifestyle that do connect to the Aristotelian view. During the ‘60s, hippies became very invested in hallucinogens, specifically marijuana and LSD. These drugs were used to alter one’s state of consciousness and emerge oneself into a state of contemplation in order to expand one’s thoughts. Drugs such as LSD were said to have created an “increased awareness and perception.”[7] This relates to Aristotle’s value of contemplation. As Aristotle explores the components of happiness he completes his definition of happiness by stating that the furthest extent of happiness is contemplation. Therefore, if happiness is indeed “a kind of speculation or contemplation,” then it is fair to claim that in some aspects of life hippies were exercising a life of happiness through their usage of drugs to indulge themselves in contemplation.

Although there are many aspects of the hippie counterculture movement of the 1960s that go against many ideals of the Aristotelian and Utilitarian view s of happiness, it is interesting to consider the fact that the movement was partially compatible with two ideologies that are so opposing. It would be a stretch to claim that the hippies may have had it all figured it, but what’s worth considering is this- maybe the hippies were on the right path to finding a way for society to function and for true happiness to be present. Rather you agree or not, it’s important to consider attempting to understand where certain social groups are coming from when they are forming the way their societies function because this gives us the opportunity to learn and hopefully to one day figure out what the true meaning of happiness is and how to apply it to society.


[1] “Counterculture – Boundless Open Textbook.” Boundless. Accessed May 02, 2016. https://www.boundless.com/u-s-history/textbooks/boundless-u-s-history-textbook/the-sixties-29/counterculture-221/counterculture-1232-9277/.

[2] Bhaddock. “The Hippie Counter Culture Movement (1960’s) – Mortal Journey.” Mortal Journey. March 09, 20111. Accessed May 01, 2016. http://www.mortaljourney.com/2011/03/1960-trends/hippie-counter-culture-movement.

[3] Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism.

[4] Bhaddock. “The Hippie Counter Culture Movement (1960’s) – Mortal Journey.” Mortal Journey. March 09, 20111. Accessed May 01, 2016. http://www.mortaljourney.com/2011/03/1960-trends/hippie-counter-culture-movement.

[5][5] Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics.

[6] Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics.

[7] Strange, Philip. “The Naked Scientists.” Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. April 16, 2009. Accessed May 03, 2016. http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/articles/article/turn-on-tune-in-drop-out/.


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