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How Philosophers Define Happiness Differently

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How Philosophers Define Happiness Differently

Happiness.

It’s something we all want.

But what exactly is happiness? Could you describe it in one sentence?

If you’re unsure about the exact definition of happiness, you’re not alone. Many philosophers have very different ideas about what happiness is, and how it can be attained.

Want to find out how different philosophers define happiness?

Read on.

Aristotle’s view of happiness

Aristotle said, “Happiness depends on ourselves,” and believed that happiness was the ultimate goal of human existence [1].

Rather than viewing happiness as something that you might experience after passing a test, or while out having fun with friends, Aristotle thought happiness was a measure of your entire life, and how well you had lived it.

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He thought that happiness was an end goal, not just a momentary feeling.

Aristotle believed that all of the following were important when trying to achieve happiness:

  • Health
  • Money
  • Friendships
  • Relationships
  • Knowledge

According to Aristotle, the decisions you make are extremely important.

So, he thought that instead of choosing options that give instant gratification, we should try to behave in ways that provide long-term benefits. For example, going for a jog instead of sitting on the sofa all evening.

Kant’s view of happiness

Kant said, “Happiness is the satisfaction of all our inclinations”.

But what exactly are these inclinations?

Well, Kant also acknowledges the fact that we don’t always know what’s best for us, saying that human beings:

are not capable of determining with complete certainty … what will make him truly happy

It might sound counter-productive, but Kant believed that the more you tried to be happy, the more unhappy you would be. [2]

Have you ever tried so hard to enjoy something that you ended up feeling disappointed?

Then you’ll understand this theory.

Instead of constantly trying to attain things that we believe will make up happy, Kant says we should focus on acting in the way that we believe is right.

This could involve:

  • Doing things to help others.
  • Doing things out of a sense of duty.
  • Trying to be as rational and moral as possible.

It wouldn’t include:

  • Trying to get rich.
  • Working towards material possessions.
  • Becoming too focused on selfish goals.

So, the basic message is to stop obsessing over happiness, and to try and be a good person instead.

When we do the right thing, happiness will naturally follow.

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Nietzsche’s view of happiness

Nietzsche said, “What is happiness? The feeling that power increases, that resistance is being overcome.”

Nietzsche believed that happiness was a kind of power that people could exert over the world around them.

This might sound a little sinister, but it could manifest in many innocuous ways.

For example, to be happy, you might want the power to:

  • Live in the location you want
  • Work at a job you enjoy
  • Have relationships with people of your choice
  • Spend your time in the way you want

When the power to do these things is taken away, we feel unhappy and attempt to take back control.

This could be by looking for a better job, leaving an unhealthy relationship, or moving to a new geographical location.

Nietzsche believed that happiness was strongly connected to personal agency and the ability to live life the way you wanted to.

Socrate’s view of happiness

Socrate’s believed that many experiences we might describe as pleasurable, like feeling better after a long illness, were not true happiness – only the absence of suffering.

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He thought that happiness should not be based on external things, but on how they are used. [3]

For example:

  • Using money to donate to a good cause.
  • Using intelligence to solve problems.
  • Using strength for good, and not to manipulate others.

So, it’s not about what you have – it’s about how you use it.

The key to happiness

So, with all these different opinions, how can we achieve happiness?

We’ve listed some key ideas below:

  • Don’t become too focused on the pursuit of happiness.
  • Try to live in a moral, rational way.
  • Take control of your own life where possible.
  • Don’t base happiness on external things, like money.
  • Use your strengths, like intelligence, to do good.
  • Happiness is an end goal, not a fleeting moment of pleasure.

Ready to feel happier? Try following the theories above in your own life.

Reference

[1] Pursuit of Happiness: Aristotle and Happiness
[2] Big Think: Kant’s Foolproof Recipe for Happiness
[3] Pursuit of Happiness: Socrates and Happiness

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Eloise Best

Eloise is an everyday health expert and runs My Vegan Supermarket, a vegan blog and database of supermarket products.

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