I often think of the idea of happiness, the way in which happiness exists and how varied it can be pursued, idealized and concretized. I often think of happiness in regards to how it exists in my life. Or, rather, I suppose it’s less a matter of thinking about the idea, and more about living in pursuit of the idea and maximizing its impact.
As I see it, happiness is at the center of living one’s life. We live to pursue our greatest happiness. Ayn Rand puts it quite eloquently when she says
The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. To hold one’s own life as one’s ultimate value, and one’s own happiness as one’s highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement. Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one’s life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness. It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one’s life, in any hour, year or the whole of it. And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: “This is worth living for”—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself.
Now, each person’s happiness is, of course, entirely their own. Each of us has a different idea of what happiness entails.
But I do think that for true happiness to exist, one mustn’t be of a mind driven by instant gratification, emotion and contented to be without rational reflection. It isn’t a temporary state, nor is it reliant upon feelings. It is the whole of one’s quality of life, the entirety of one’s well-being. Really, it is the goal of human existence (see Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics for more on happiness as achieving “eudaimonia”).
In order to achieve this true form of happiness, one must live productively; one must challenge themselves; one must be in pursuant of all the “good things” Aristotle speaks of: health, wealth, friendship and virtue; one must choose the things that are in support of, and direct precedents of, well-being.
With that, it’s not so easy to say that we all have our own versions of happiness, and that we should choose to pursue them. In his paper “Aristotle’s Ethics: The Theory of Happiness,” Mortimer J. Adler, PhD. says
But, Aristotle contends, on the contrary, that there is only one true conception of happiness and that when happiness is truly conceived, it is the same for all men, whether they think so or not. One example will suffice to help you see what he is driving at: and then you can decide whether or not you agree with him — as I do.
Consider the case of the miser. The miser thinks that happiness consists solely in accumulating and hoarding a pile of gold. To achieve this end, he ruins his health, lives in isolation from other human beings, does not take part in the life of his country — and is subject to wild fears and constant worries. There the miser sits fondling his gold. Is he a happy man or is he miserable?
Aristotle would say that the miser is completely miserable — the perfect type of human misery. For he has thwarted most of his normal human cravings, and stunted his human development! He has deprived himself of most of the good things of life — health, knowledge, friendship and many other forms of human activity — in order to acquire wealth: wealth which he does not put to good use but simply gloats over. True, he thinks that his happiness consists in the possession of gold. But that is a mistaken judgment on his part. It has led him to do violence to his own nature and to ruin his life.
As Aristotle sees it, while we all may have different versions of happiness (i.e. the means with which we glean and produce may be different), the basic elements are the same. A key component in this, and I feel a good counter to some skeptics of this view of happiness, is what Adler goes on to say
Suppose, for example, that someone thinks that happiness consists in having power over other men, and not being subject to the power of anyone else. Some men, we know from history and experience, actually think this — and want power more than anything else. They think it is most essential to their happiness. What is wrong with such thinking? You can readily see what is wrong. If power over others were truly an element in human happiness, then happiness would not be attainable by all men. Because if some men attain it, that would preclude other men, subject to their power, from becoming happy. Everyone cannot be on top — and if you have to be on top in order to be happy, only some men can achieve happiness at the expense of others.
Hence, if everyone has a natural right to the pursuit of happiness, and if that means that happiness must be attainable by all, then we know at once, do we not, that power over other men cannot be a part of human happiness — for if it were, happiness would not be attainable by all.
This pursuit must be one that does not infringe upon the rights of another. Otherwise, you are a tyrant, or a looter.
And so, this is how I see it. What about you? How do you see it?
All that I can say is that I choose to live my life in this way. At times, it is difficult, and at times I struggle. But I can’t give up. As long as I don’t, true happiness will remain. It’s quite wonderful. Gleaning. Learning. Challenging.
Loving Jessica. She is my trusty co-pilot on this wondrous journey in happiness, to happiness.