What is Happiness?
In his Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle gives us one take on what is required of a person in order to be happy. He writes:
“…the function of a man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a certain kind of 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,” (Nicomachean Ethics 1098a13).
Central to Aristotle’s concept of happiness is virtue, an all too important connection in his vision of the good life. Humans are to cultivate the necessary virtues that will lead them to excellence and therefore, happiness. This is why Aristotle refers to happiness as an “activity of the soul” in harmony with virtue.
But why should we subscribe to Aristotle’s description of a happy life instead of Seneca’s or John Stuart Mill, or any of the worlds leading philosophers?
Put simply, our modern conceptions of happiness have been plagued by materialism. For many, happiness has become a material and/or temporal project rooted in what takes place outside of ourselves. Such a project is not wrong per se, but fails to see happiness for what is, that is, a state of mind, as Aristotle has suggested. Happiness is an excellence of the soul that can certainly be aided by material objects but does not need them in order to flourish.
What do you think?
By Ricardo Huerta