Happiness

“We must consider it, however, in the light not only of our conclusion and our premisses, but also of what is commonly said about it; for with a true view all the data harmonize, but with a false one the facts soon clash. Now goods have been divided into three classes, and some are described as external, others as relating to soul or to body; we call those that relate to soul most properly and truly goods, and psychical actions and activities we class as relating to soul. Therefore our account must be sound, at least according to this view, which is an old one and agreed on by philosophers. It is correct also in that we identify the end with certain actions and activities; for thus it falls among goods of the soul and not among external goods. Another belief which harmonizes with our account is that the happy man lives well and does well; for we have practically defined happiness as a sort of good life and good action. The characteristics that are looked for in happiness seem also, all of them, to belong to what we have defined happiness as being. For some identify happiness with virtue, some with practical wisdom, others with a kind of philosophic wisdom, others with these, or one of these, accompanied by pleasure or not without pleasure; while others include also external prosperity. Now some of these views have been held by many men and men of old, others by a few eminent persons; and it is not probable that either of these should be entirely mistaken, but rather that they should be right in at least some one respect or even in most respects.”

Aristotle. (350 B.C.). Nicomachean Ethics. (Book 1).

The paragraph above by Aristotle, translated by W.D. Ross, refers to the idea of happiness in relation to goodness and what goods are, both within us and externally. Aristotle mentions that ‘a happy many lives well and does well’, meaning, that those that do good will live a happy life. It also mentions the end, which I can only assume to be the end of life, and how the goods within a person are much more important than the physical goods that a person may have. Some people may think of themselves as happy because of the objects they have, but the true key to happiness is being a good person and doing good deeds.

I chose this paragraph because it answers some of the questions that I ask myself on a regular basis: what is the key to happiness. In today’s society, many of us, including myself, find happiness in objects- watches, shoes, clothes, bags, etc. However, this happiness is only acute happiness; it only provides us a feeling of ‘happy’ for a short while, whether it be 5 minutes, an actual short while, or 5 months- which in relation to a life long time period, is in fact a short while. What makes us happy when we look back on our lives? I wont be happy in 2020 because I bought myself a nice watch that I’ve been thinking about for months- I probably wont even remember the watch that I’m actually waiting to come in the mail any day now. But for right now, it seems to be all I can think about. It seems ridiculous that I base my happiness on something material when some individuals don’t even have the necessary material objects in life- food, clothes, etc. and still find a way to be happy. What makes my happiness different from anyone elses? Perhaps, what I base it on. I find myself dissecting my thoughts like this often.
And so, I chose this post because it made me realize that we are not content with ourselves as human beings, we are not ‘good’ people, doing ‘good’ things or deeds as often as we should, and so we try to find a short period of happiness in material objects to satisfy our need to feel pleasure and happy, and content with ourselves, really -because we have not yet reached the point of ‘goodness’ to give us everlasting happiness. While I recognize the fact that material object do in fact make me happy, simplicity and goodness make me happy too.
My questions: I find myself to be a generally nice person, with good intentions, and yet I find happiness in material objects as well as helping people and doing good deeds. Is that wrong? Is it wrong to treat myself once in a while, if at the end of the day I am a ‘good’ person?

I agree with Aristotle that the ultimate goal in life is to strive for happiness, whatever makes us happy- its what drives us. If providing for our family makes us happy, we work; if helping people makes us happy, we help. Happiness is interpreted differently for everyone and so that is why everyone finds themselves at a different point in life and in the world. But at the end of the day and at the end of our lives- happiness is the goal and what has driven us to this point.

Notions of happiness may be different based on your foundation, or the type of family you come from, your religion and belief system, etc. For example, if your family values close ties with one another, spending quality time with your family and helping your family members out may bring you great joy. In terms of class- if you’re part of the lower class, if may bring you great joy to go to college or be able to provide for someone to get an education because it is so far fetched from what you thought possible- as opposed to an individual from a wealthier family may not find great joy from going to college because they may take it for granted.

I find myself questioning the meaning of life often. Maybe the meaning and purpose of life is happiness. My concept of happiness is being content with yourself as a human being. My idea of happiness is spending time with my family and enjoying life as a gift from a higher power.
Based on my previous comment and question in relation to the fact that I find happiness in both being a good person and material things, I am going to mention the concept of virtue. Virtue is regarded as a mean, not an excessive amount, and not a deficient amount. Virtue is the balance. So then, if I balance the things that bring me pleasure, material goods and helping people, well then I have virtue, and in that happiness.

I think Aristotle’s definition and concept of happiness is useful in trying to understand true happiness and trying to attain it eventually. However, I do not feel that most people are on the right path, and have virtue in their lives, or balance. I think we, as a society, have very addictive personalities and try to mask the fact that were not happy with ourselves as moral human beings.
When looking at good people and people that help others on a regular basis, I do believe that Aristotle’s concept on happiness is very legitimate and useful in understanding the moral motivations of people. Doing good and being moral brings some people extreme happiness, and that is a beautiful thing.

Simplicity. Innocence. Happiness.

happiness

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10 thoughts on “Happiness

  1. One of the examples of happiness you brought out I never even thought about while doing my post. I liked how you said “if your family values close ties with one another, spending quality time with your family and helping your family members out may bring you great joy.” I am extremely close to my family and always have been. We love to spend quality time together, and this is one thing that brings me happiness because I know I can have fun with them and can rely on them.

    In my posting, I used a different quote, but had a similar idea as you when it comes to happiness. I do not believe everyone has the goal in life to strive for happiness. You are always going to find those people who are miserable, and might even try to bring others down with them. I think the concept of happiness is sometimes something people tend to over think. For some people, it might take something big to make them happy. I know for me, sometimes the littlest things make me happy. I have been a nanny for three years and was helping the girl do a project one day. She was worried one thing she was going to do would not work, so I told her we would try and if it didn’t work, we would learn and do something different. Out of nowhere she says “that’s what I love about you”. This made my day, and really brought out happiness because she showed how much she cared for me. Sometimes, the smallest things can bring the most happiness!

  2. Very nice thoughts. I liked the way you liked up happiness with virtues – that’s on the right track in understanding how Aristotle thought about this. Would you agree that there is a strong link between those two concepts? And if so, are they necessarily linked together? Can one be without the other?

  3. Hi Cecilia. I brought up the idea in my post that there are different levels of happiness. So when you posed the question “am I a bad person because material things make me happy?” my answer from my perspective is no it does not. I find myself happy when I’m at the beach. Being at the beach is a selfish act… I am not doing any virtuous activity and I go for the sole reason that it makes me happy. Professor Torok called that internal peace of mind. So I think that buying materialistic things to be happy brings you a certain level of happiness, and that happiness is probably an internal peace of mind. I do not think that it is realistic to think you have to be consistantly performing virtuous activites to be happy. Performing virtuous activites does not necessarily mean you will find happiness either. For example, you are a nursing major, and as a nurse you will be helping people everyday which is a virtuous act. However, in some cases you may not be able to help someone and may bring harm unintentionally. Clearly you are not going to be happy, and you may be upset about it even though you were trying to perform a virtuous act. So I think that there is a difference between virtuous acts that bring happiness and happiness that comes from obtaining an internal peace. I do not agree with Aristotle that they go hand in hand.

    1. Its interesting that you place going to the beach in a category of ‘being selfish’. From context I understood that you considered it ‘selfish’ because it in not virtuous and makes you happy. First off, I don’t think Aristotle’s material was supposed to be black and white, its definitely in the gray area. Secondly, I also think that you don’t always have to be doing something virtuous to be happy. In nursing, two of the underlying concepts we learn is beneficence and nonmaleficence- beneficence being doing good for others and nonmalmaleficence is not doing harm to others. These are actually called the ‘virtues’ or nursing. I think happiness comes from doing good for others. However, I understand that in the reality of present day- not doing any harm to others can also lead to a happy life.

      The main point I was trying to bring home is that I do not feel that happiness can be found in material objects- iPhones, watches (which ended up coming in the mail), purses, cars, etc. I think happiness comes from experience, enjoying family, fulfilling personal relationships, etc. I think finding happiness at the beach is a great thing! Good for you! I think the beach was a gift given by God for our enjoyment and its awesome that you can still find enjoyment in a simple part of the environment- without the rush of modern day society, electronics, etc.

      I really like your mention of ‘internal peace’- I just can’t agree with people that believe that material objects will bring this particular peace.

  4. Your post sparked a lot of thoughts and I agree with what you said about material things only bringing about acute happiness. However, I believe that as a society, we depend a lot on materialistic things to make us happy, despite how much we say we should try and be less materialistic. It’s become more of a want than a need. Honestly, do you really NEED the latest version of the iPhone 5 when your iPhone 4 is working JUST FINE? Probably not, but it’s something you WANT because it makes you happy.

    To answer your question, I don’t believe it’s wrong to treat yourself to a materialistic item if you’ve been a ‘good’ person. I believe that at some point or another in life, when a friend, family member, co-worker, etc. asks you for a favor (such as help with a project), your immediate response was “well, what’s in it for me?”. The gratitude of your friend, family member, co-worker, etc. in the end should be enough right? In most cases, yes. However, down the road, if you’re looking to buy another watch, jewelry, etc. you look for reasons to buy it so you don’t feel like you’re wasting money or just buying it for no reason. The thought suddenly comes across your mind; “I’ve been a good person! Remember that moment when I helped so and so with a project? I deserve a reward!”. So, I don’t believe it’s wrong to treat yourself, it may just be human nature, but I find myself doing it all the time!

    1. My immediate after thought was “but why would the iPhone 5 make you happy?”. Like what is it about the iPhone 5 that gives us the idea of happiness? And its odd because I recognize that an iPhone 5 would probably make me really happy- but on the other hand, the thought of an object making you ‘happy’ is asinine.

  5. I completely agree with your thought about how buying things only brings you a short period of happiness. Some people think that the more things you have, the happier you are. Of course being able to buy the things you want like clothes, jewlery, a car, vactions or whatever else you desire is great, but down the road your not going to remember the pair of earrings you bought five years ago. One of the things that also makes me happy is spending time with my family. Having good memories with loved ones is much more valuable to me than any material object.

  6. I agree with you that Aristotle was right that happiness is the ultimate goal for all, and that whatever makes us happy is what we do, as much as we can. I find that also being happy means that even if you are doing something that you dont like, that you are content with where you are in life and therefore can still be happy in that sense. It’s all about putting things into perspective, which is so hard sometimes when we are caught up in the cares and affairs of our everyday life. However, I believe it would be beneficial for all of us to take a step back everyday just for a moment and remember the important things in life, and be thankful for all that we have.

    1. Theres a song by Passenger, ‘Let her Go’. The idea of the song is so fantastic- you only realize things were good, when the start to go bad. Its important to be thankful for where you are so that you may find the goodness in every day and move forward!

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