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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

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

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Published on October 30, 2020

11 Essential Philosophy Books That Will Open Your Mind

11 Essential Philosophy Books That Will Open Your Mind

There are numerous ways to build your mindset, but none are as profound as reading philosophy books. Through these books, some of the greatest minds around ask questions and delve deep into thought.

While there isn’t always a clear and distinct answer to the many questions of philosophy, the entire field is a gateway to a higher sense of self. It gets you to think about all manner of things.

Below, we cover some of the essential philosophy books that are best for those who are just starting or looking to expand their mind.

How To Choose a Good Philosophy Book

Before getting to this list, we’ve researched ideal philosophy books to help you expand your mind.

We’ve found that the best philosophy books excel in the following criteria:

  • Complexity – Philosophy isn’t a subject that you can’t dive into immediately and understand everything. The books that we selected are great for people making the first leap.
  • Viewpoint – With philosophy, in particular, the author’s views are more important than in your standard book. We want to ensure the viewpoints and thoughts being discussed still hold up to this day.
  • Open-mindedness – Philosophy is all about asking perplexing questions and unraveling the answer. You might not reach a conclusion in the end, but these books are designed to get you to think.
  • Culture – The last criterion is culture. A lot of these books come from early philosophers from centuries ago or possibly from recent years. These philosophy books should paint a picture of the culture.

1. Meditations

    One that you’ll find on many of these types of lists is Meditations and for good reason. It’s the only document of its kind to ever be made. The book focuses on the private thoughts of the world’s most powerful man who advises himself revolving around making good on his responsibilities and the obligations of his position.

    We know enough about Marcus Aurelius to know that he was trained in stoic philosophy and practiced every night on a series of spirituality exercises. These exercises were designed to make him humble, patient, empathetic, generous, and strong in the face of whatever problem he had to face off. And he faced plenty of problems since he was basically the emperor of roughly a third of the planet.

    All of that is poured into this book, and you are bound to remember a line or more that will be applicable in your life. It’s a philosophy book staple.

    Buy Meditations here.

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    2. Letters From a Stoic

      Similar to Marcus Aurelius, Seneca was another powerful man in Rome. He was a brilliant writer at the time and was the kind of guy to give great advice to his most trusted friends. Fortunately, much of his advice comes in letters, and those letters happen to be in this book. The letters themselves provided advice on dealing with grief, wealth, poverty, success, failure, education, and more.

      While Seneca was a stoic, he has a more practical approach and has borrowed from other schools of thought for his advice. As he said when he was alive, “I don’t care about the author if the line is good.” Similar to Meditations, there are several brilliant lines and advice that are still relevant to this day.

      Buy “Letters From a Stoic” here.

      3. Nicomachean Ethics

        Aristotle was a famous Greek philosopher at the time with profound knowledge. He’s named after a form of logic as well called Aristotelian logic. Through this book, Aristotle writes about the root of all Aristotelian ethics. In other words, this book contains the moral ideas that form a base for pretty much all of western civilization.

        Buy “Nicomachean Ethics” here.

        4. Beyond Good & Evil

          Friedrich Nietzsche played a big role in the philosophical world. He was one of the leading philosophers of the existential movement, and it all came through this particular book. He is a brilliant mind. However, the issue with a lot of his work is that it’s all written in German.

          Fortunately, this book is one of the slightly more accessible ones since it’s translated. Within the book, he breaks down the paradoxes of conventional understandings of morality. By doing this, he sets the stage for a lot of the 20th-century thought process that followed.

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          Buy “Beyond Good & Evil” here.

          5. Meditations on First Philosophy

            In Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes breaks his book down into six meditations. The book takes a journalistic style that is structured much like a six-day course of meditation. On day one, he gives instructions on discarding all belief in things that are not guaranteed. After that, he tries to establish what can be known for sure. Similar to Meditations, this is a staple and influential philosophical text that you can pick up.

            Buy “Meditations on First Philosophy” here.

            6. Ethics

              Written by Benedict de Spinoza, this came at a time during the Age of Enlightenment. Enlightenment was a movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries and with that, many schools of thought emerged and were presented through books.

              Out of the many influential philosophy books published back then, Ethics dominated during this period as it discussed the basis of rationalism. Even though we’ve developed further beyond that, Ethics can introduce new ways of thinking from this particular school of thought.

              Buy “Ethics” here.

              7. Critique of Pure Reason

                Immanuel Kant is another great philosopher who brought together two of history’s biggest opposing schools of thought into a single book. Those schools being rational thought and empirical experiential knowledge—knowledge gained through experience.

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                In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explores human reason and then works to establish its illusions and get down to core constituents. Overall, you can learn more about human behavior and thought processes and thus, open your mind more to how you think and process everything around you.

                Buy “Critique of Pure Reason” here.

                8. On the Genealogy of Morals

                  Another piece of work from Nietzsche that is accessible to us is On the Genealogy of Morals. According to Nietzsche, the purpose of this book is to call attention to his previous writings. That said, it does more than that so you don’t need to worry so much about reading his other books.

                  In this book, he expands on the cryptic aphorisms that he brings up in Beyond Good and Evil and offers a discussion or morality in a work that is more accessible than a lot of his previous work.

                  Buy “On the Genealogy of Morals” here.

                  9. Everything Is F*cked

                    The only book on this list that’s been written in the past few years, this book by Mark Manson aims to explain why we all need hope while also accepting that hope can often lead us to ruin too.

                    While many of the books on this list are all practical, this one is the most realistic one since not even the greatest of philosophical minds could predict things like technology, Twitter, and how our political world has shaped.

                    Manson delivers a profound book that taps into the minds of our ancestral philosophers, such as Plato, Nietzsche, and Tom Waits, and digs deep into various topics and how all of it is connected—religion and politics, our relationship with money, entertainment, and the internet.

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                    Overall, this book serves as a challenge to all of us—a challenge to be more honest with ourselves and connect with the world in a way we’ve never tried before.

                    Buy “Everything Is F*cked” here.

                    10. Reasons and Persons

                      One of the most challenging philosophy books to read on this list, Reasons and Persons will send you on quite the trip. Through a lot of painstaking logic, Derek Parfit shows us some unique perspectives on self-interest, personhood, and whether our actions are good or evil.

                      Considered by many to be an important psychological text around the 20th century, the arguments made about those topics will open your mind to a brand new way of thinking.

                      Buy “Reasons and Persons” here.

                      11. The Republic of Plato

                        Written by Plato himself, this book is the origin of political science and offers a brilliant critique of government. As you would expect, the critique is still important today. If you’re looking to understand the inner thoughts of Plato, this is one of the best books around.

                        Buy “The Republic of Plato” here.

                        Final Thoughts

                        Philosophy books take a while to digest as they provide profound knowledge and leave you with many questions. With many of these philosophy books, you need to take your time with them, and you might have to read through them a few times as well. And with every read, your mind will only expand.

                        More Books to Open Your Mind

                        Featured photo credit: Laura Chouette via unsplash.com

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