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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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Last Updated on April 1, 2019

How to Be Happy: Why Pursuing Happiness Will Make You Unhappy

How to Be Happy: Why Pursuing Happiness Will Make You Unhappy

When we talk about happiness, we often think about staying happy all the time – every single day, every single minute with zero negativity. Many try to pursue this constant state of “happiness” as their ultimate goal, and avoid anything that may take it away from them.

But, what is the meaning of this type of “happiness”?

It’s a lot like your favorite food. The more often you have it isn’t always better. On the contrary, when you only have a chance to eat it sparingly, that’s when you really savor every bite. So is it the food itself that makes you happy, or is it how valuable it is to you when you are eating it?

Always remember that only by experiencing sadness do we understand what it is to be happy.

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Video Summary

Don’t Assume Others Are Always Happy

Most people see those who have seemingly perfect lives and assume they are happy all the time. Since childhood, we are conditioned to chase the idea of “happily-ever-after” that we see in fairytales. On social media, everyone tends to share only the best looking aspects of their lives. So, it’s very easy to have a distorted view of what “happiness” is around us.

In reality, there is always something missing, something lacking, or something unpleasant.

No one has a perfect life. Even the most glamorous celebrities or the richest billionaires have their own set of challenges and problems.

When we feel negative, we’re only focusing on a small fluctuating curve. As CEO of Lifehack, I’ve had to deal with countless problems, and some of them felt like real setbacks at the time. During those moments, it really seemed like these problems would be the life or death of my company and my life goals. But, I got through them; and, weeks, months and eventually years passed with many more ups and downs.

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You need to keep your sights on the extended curve.  Looking back now, a lot of those “really big” problems at the time now seem like only small blips in a long line of experiences. Recalling them in my mind now makes me smile!

Stop Trying to Be Happy–Just Be

It’s natural to want to be happy as often as possible.

So what can we do?

First, throw away the belief that a perfect life means happiness. Personally, I would be miserable if everything was perfect. It’s through experiencing the pains of lifelong challenges that drives us to care for others when they are experiencing similar trials. If life was perfect, you wouldn’t be able to empathize. If life was perfect, you wouldn’t grow.

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To be truly happy, stop chasing permanent happiness.

It sounds like a paradox. But, what I mean is to accept that there will be ups and downs throughout life. Gracefully understand that happiness is a fluctuation of positive and negative events.

Understand the importance of gratitude. Instead of focusing on the unpleasant moment, flash back your memory to when you didn’t have something. I like to think about my career, for example. When I didn’t have a career I was passionate about, I felt lost and demotivated. I felt like everyone was figuring out their lives but me. But, when I found my purpose and started Lifehack, I was deeply happy, even before I realized I would be successful! This memory keeps me going when I hit tough spots. It takes the darkness to make us grateful for the light.

Happiness and Sadness Exist Together

What it all comes down to is this: your life will be filled with beautiful, happy and incredible moments–happy tears and joyous shouts and funny stories. But, your life will also be filled with rain and storms that never seem like they will pass while you’re going through them.

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But, whether your face is warmed by the sunshine, or your heart is dampened by the rain, know that it’s all part of the ebb and flow of life.

Treasure the happy moments and power through the sad ones. Don’t try to avoid “sad” or “negative” experiences, and blindly chase being “happy”. In the end you will achieve a true level of contentment in your life, based on meaningful experiences and achievements. Being able to create growth and meaning out of both positive and negative events — that is the true meaning of “happiness”.

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