Pursuit of Pleasure

Emily Veninga – Econ Summer

At the core beliefs of America, there is the unalienable right of all citizens to pursue happiness along with life and liberty. We learn it in school and think, “wow, that’s cool” and move on. However, this pursuit, in Aristotle’s contemplative mind, is the goal for humanity and what we should all strive to achieve. Happiness is by his definitions, “something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that men does”. (1) However, in our society today happiness has become more about feeling good than practicing virtue; Pleasure and Happiness. Pleasure is a part, an important part, of happiness but it is not “the good” (2) to which humans should strive for to achieve fulfillment. In our search for pleasure, we, as a society, have lost sight of happiness. Our confusion of pleasure and happiness has created an obsession with happiness that has not lead to fulfillment because pleasure is a secondary good that does not by itself lead to happiness. However, in our society, the idea happiness and pleasure have become interchangeable. Our pursuit of happiness has become a pursuit of pleasure. The pursuit of pleasure alone can create a hedonistic mindset that creates an opposition between pleasure and pain that should not be there, creates an addictive need to find the next happiness fix, and ultimately stops us from fulfilling our purpose as humans.

For Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay, the notion that individuals should do everything for the sake of happiness is a dangerous one. In his book The Good Life, Mackay argues that this philosophy has led to a new disease among Western societies: “fear of sadness.”

Mackay explains that it’s wholeness, not happiness, that we should be after:

We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position — it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much …


If one believes that pleasure is our ultimate goal, it could lead them to believe in a hedonistic mindset. Hedonism believes that pleasure is the ultimate good and pain is the ultimate evil. However, pain and sadness are necessary and a wonderful facet of our emotions that help us connect to others and feel. Inside Out creates a new outlook on the sadness that is not usually present in our society. ““Inside Out” offers a new approach to sadness. Its central insight: Embrace sadness, let it unfold, engage patiently with a preteen’s emotional struggles. Sadness will clarify what has been lost (Childhood) and move a family toward what is to be gained: the foundations of new identities, for children and parents alike. “(1) Sadness helps people to grow as people and acknowledge the change.

Americans still strive for happiness. It is something we believe is a right of ours yet we don’t understand it. It is something we think we can buy but it must be achieved through dedication and hard work. We think it is a good feeling but it is a continual choice to be a better and more complete human being. If our society – our individuals continue to believe that the pursuit of pleasure will bring them happiness, we will all lose what it means to be human.


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