Happiness: The Greatest Unknown

Jenna Cortez, Morning Period (Aparicio), Honorbound

In a world of ever-changing and developing ideals, one goal remains constant: happiness. Whether we place value in friends, family, or money, all humans seek happiness in their everyday lives. In fact, happiness is so often sought after that it has become a cliché in modern society. Regardless of its commonality, however, true happiness serves as the final reward and ultimate achievement of those who lead worthwhile lives.

But, for something so commonplace, happiness cannot easily be measured. In The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle attempts to find an acceptable measure of happiness by comparing varying viewpoints on how true happiness can be achieved. Aristotle muses that virtue, honor, and excellence could be quantifiable measures of happiness. [1] But, these values do not guarantee happiness in a person’s life; a person could be virtuous yet still suffer misfortune, or a person could value honor and excellence but seek unnecessary praise for his or her actions. Aristotle then clarifies that a true form of happiness cannot be a means to anything else, as “happiness is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does.”[2] To give an example, monetary wealth is not happiness. While many assume money brings happiness, money is solely a means to another good. The money itself does not allude to happiness, but rather the goods you buy with it do.

Material possessions don’t ensure happiness either. Objects only bring us a false sense of happiness, or pleasure. However, this is not to say that all material wealth is bad. In fact, in order to achieve true happiness, some level of external goods or fortunes is necessary. But, while external goods can be tools to finding true happiness, the pleasures we derive from them are not. Pleasure, along with common sense is something that we share with other animals. Therefore, pleasure cannot be a true form of happiness as it is not specific to man himself.[3] In other words, as man is much more complicated than animal, mankind derives true happiness in different ways than pleasure.

One of these ways is reason. Reasoning and knowledge are the two main factors that set the common animal apart from man. Therefore, if man can find true reason he can supposedly achieve true happiness. The only problem with this idea is that man can never fully comprehend or understand his existence.

True happiness, or Eudaimonia, relates to the Catholic understanding of a human’s purpose. While Aristotle was not Catholic, his teachings on happiness are still used today in the Catholic faith. He defined happiness as having four levels: material possessions, self-fulfillment, helping others, and ultimate/perfect happiness.[4] Catholics relate this final level of happiness to God. They believe that perfect and ultimate happiness can only be found in the everlasting life after death.

So what does Aristotle have to do with Catholicism? Well, just as Aristotle states that rue happiness is revealed through reason and knowledge, it is also true that humans do not have full knowledge. It is the unknown of the afterlife that humans do not comprehend until after they have died. So, is it going too far to imply that God is the source of ultimate and perfect happiness? Possibly. But, considering that no human envelops full logic or reasoning, it isn’t a far stretch to believe that there is a greater unknown, or God.

 

[1] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.” How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch, 2017, Ed. Bernardo Aparicio (Ursuline Academy, 2017), Book 1: Ch. 6.

[2] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.” How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch, 2017, Ed. Bernardo Aparicio (Ursuline Academy, 2017), Book 1: Ch. 7.

[3] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.” How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch, 2017, Ed. Bernardo Aparicio (Ursuline Academy, 2017), Book 1: Ch. 8.

[4] User, Super. “The Four Levels of Happiness.” Catholic Education Resource Center. Accessed June 23, 2017. http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/apologetics/the-four-levels-of-happiness.html.

Image Citation: “Aristotle.” Biography.com. November 07, 2016. Accessed June 23, 2017. https://www.biography.com/people/aristotle-9188415.

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