What is Happiness Anyways?

Jade Whitney – Period I – Honorbound 

Many people think they know what it is to “be happy.”  They know the feeling of receiving a gift from a friend, or eating their favorite snack, but that’s not exactly “happy.” Those feelings don’t last, for example, that gift that your friend gives you, you’re so excited to open it but when you do you’re slightly disappointed in the actual gift itself. In all honesty, you’d rather it have stayed in its packaging and feel the feeling of “not knowing.” It is easy enough to see that we desire money, pleasure, and honor only because we believe that these goods will make us happy, but Aristotle argues in his text, Nicomachean Ethics, that happiness is a final end or goal that encompasses the totality of one’s life.

To start with, let’s define what “happiness” is. Starting with Aristotle’s definition of happiness, “the function of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.” [1] Aristotle tells us that the most important factor in the effort to achieve happiness is to have a good moral character — what he calls “complete virtue.” However, one must act in accordance and strive to possess all virtues. According to Aristotle, happiness consists in achieving, through the course of a whole lifetime, all the goods — health, wealth, knowledge, friends, etc. — that lead to the perfection of human nature and to the enrichment of human life. This requires us to make choices and decisions that we may not want to make, but is truly necessary for us to live this type of life.

Many people think that they can achieve happiness through wealth, drugs, external goods, etc. While a “druggie” experiences a short term pleasure, all of those virtues — generosity, temperance, friendship, courage, etc. — that make up the good life will appear to be conspicuously absent during their life. As for wealth and external goods, some of the money we receive in our life is essential for meeting our final end, but to some extent that money can become toxic if we let it drive our greed.

In conclusion, only at the end of our lives can we be judged, “through the greatness of [our] soul. And if it is what a man does that determines the character of his life, as we said, then no happy man will become miserable; for he will never do what is hateful and base. For we hold that the man who is truly good and wise will bear with dignity whatever fortune sends, and will always make the best of his circumstances.” [2] Happiness requires intellectual contemplation, for this is the ultimate realization of our rational capacities, and it depends on acquiring a moral character. So the next time you think that you’re truly happy, think about how long that feeling will last, and what it is that’s making you “happy.”


[1] Aristotle, and L. H. G. Greenwood. Aristotle Nicomachean ethics. New York: Arno., 1973. Book VII

[2] Aristotle, and L. H. G. Greenwood. Aristotle Nicomachean ethics. New York: Arno., 1973. Book X

“Aristotle.” Pursuit of Happiness. September 10, 2016. Accessed April 27, 2017. http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/aristotle/.

“Relationships and good health the key to happiness, not income.” LSE Web. Accessed April 27, 2017. http://www.lse.ac.uk/website-archive/newsAndMedia/newsArchives/2016/12/Relationships-and-happiness.aspx




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