Philosophy and Happiness

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Many great philosophers have written about the idea of happiness and what it means to the world. Happiness is a word that most people have heard at least once in their lifetime, but every person tends to have a different definition of happiness. Some believe the key to happiness is through wealth and having money to do whatever they want. Others believe happiness comes from being around loved ones like friends and family. However, in order to dive deeper into the concept of happiness, there are two philosophers who have taken it to a whole new level.

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One such philosopher is Aristotle, the father of western philosophy. In his writings of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle goes into great detail about what happiness really means. He states that those that are vulgar seek pleasure for happiness, and that pleasure is not really what happiness is about. Happiness, to Aristotle, is that which is chosen for itself. It is the end result of everything that is done in one’s life to achieve a total completeness at the end that is, in his understanding, happiness. The paths of pleasure, money, and fame are merely the pathways to happiness in Aristotle’s mind and in order to seek happiness, one must live their life in order to achieve virtue, which will, in the end result, achieve happiness. Happiness isn’t something that can be gained or lost at a moment’s notice. So to Aristotle, happiness is a life well lived, rather than gained from each individual path that someone has taken at that moment in time. In contrast to Aristotle’s philosophy of happiness, Epicurus had a different idea. According to Epicurus, happiness was achieved through the simple act of pursuing pleasures and avoiding pain, as well as not fearing for one’s life.

Of course, he discusses the difference between necessary pleasures and unnecessary pleasures. One necessary pleasure would be to be well fed, while an unnecessary pleasure would be to buy the newest iphone that just came out. He does clarify that happiness cannot so much as be gained by those unnecessary pleasures, as these will only one day fail us or bring us no pleasure anymore, as they are simply material things. Rather, happiness is gained by fulfilling these necessary pleasures by staying well fed, well rested, and maintaining health. Unnecessary pleasures should be avoided, as they will only end with pain. He also describes happiness as not fearing the gods and also not fearing death. Fearing these things will only cause apprehension to Epicurus, which is detrimental to experiencing the pleasures that come with life. He explains that it is easy to come by pursuing the good pleasures once one does not fear the extermination of them. The definition among both philosophers differ in that Aristotle seeks happiness along the way of life, and true happiness is not actually achieved until near the end of one’s life. It is the end result that determines happiness, and not the path taken. Meanwhile, Epicurus leans more along the line of happiness being picked up along the way of one’s life by maintaining one’s health and good-will through taking care of one’s body and not being afraid of such conditions being affected. This alone makes them vastly different. However, both seem to agree it is the path that really matters in seeking happiness.

Even though Aristotle’s beliefs place happiness at the end of one’s life, it is the journey one takes that determines it. Whether one’s life was fulfilled up until that point. In the same way, it is Epicurus that believes that one’s life being fulfilled is happiness in itself. While one can be happy at succeeding in life, the small act of seeking those basic pleasures and needs are what makes happiness at a succeeding life. While both definitions of happiness are different, both philosophers seem to believe that one’s basic needs must be fulfilled in order to achieve full happiness. Whether happiness is achieved by looking back on one’s life and seeing the good they’ve done and that which they have succeeded, or the act of fulfilling those needs, both scenarios achieve true happiness in one’s life, so long as these needs and pleasures are filled, according to both philosopher’s theories. While both are qualified theories, I believe the most helpful would be Epicurus. One can still seek happiness before the end of their life and it is displayed throughout the world that so long as one’s basic needs are fulfilled, one can remain happy. This is demonstrated by different countries. In third world countries, where technology is not quite as advanced, it’s people still find happiness by keeping themselves well fed and their bodies being taken care of, whereas those in first world countries can be made depressed by many of the unnecessary pleasures that are widely available and acceptable to most that live there.

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