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How Philosophers Define Happiness Differently

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

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Last Updated on February 19, 2019

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

No one wants to suffer. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.

People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.

But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.

If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared at early stages.

Without the feeling of pain, people won’t be aware of dangerous situations—what should or shouldn’t do for survival.

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Pain Is Our Guardian

Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable, that the child is certain never to repeat that action.

In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.[1]

Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.

While the cliche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadnesses— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on.

Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently. But it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example, anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. Especially the first breakup. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.

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No Pain, No Happiness

You only know happiness when you have known pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.

In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all. Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy

In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.[2]

This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.

Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering

Pain is inevitable, embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfectionism; and perfectionism guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.

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This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.

Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.

Allow Room for the Inevitable

Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.

Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurting. There’s a saying,

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”

Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.

The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way. How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?

While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future. You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).

Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse

Pain does not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.

To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. For it is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future or at least cope a little more easily.

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You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things. The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then take a deep breath and start learning from that pain. You’ve got this!

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] University of Calgary: Why is Pain Important?
[2] Greater Good Magazine: The Importance of Pain

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