A Short History of Happiness

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The pursuit of happiness has always been one of the main driving forces of human lives. This article recounts the amazing history of the concept of happiness from ancient times to today, from Aristotle’s Eudaimonia to Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness.

Isn’t happiness unanimously desired by every human being on Earth? Humans have strived for happiness from the very beginning. However, ‘happiness’ is one of the most variable emotions known to mankind as its meaning and the way of achieving it varies from person to person. Still, in every era philosophers have attempted to define happiness and ways to attain it. The philosophical understanding of ‘happiness’ changed through the passage of time. In the ancient world, Aristotle held virtues as the way of attaining happiness. With the commencement of the Middle Ages, philosophers like Al Ghazali and Thomas Aquinas identified the love of God as the only path to achieve happiness. In the late 18th century, Jeremy Bentham introduced the hedonistic approach to happiness. Furthermore, in the contemporary world, as happiness is also being promoted as a political objective, it has gained a new dimension.

Happiness through virtues

In the ancient period, Aristotle defined happiness as the chief human good in his book ‘Nicomachean Ethics’. His understanding of happiness is different from the regular connotation of the word ‘happiness’. He introduced the concept of happiness known as ‘Eudaimonia’. Eudaimonia is not concerned with the momentary happiness caused by a particular event. Instead, it implies that the person is admirable and lives life to its best. Aristotle held virtues like courage, temperance, justice, etc. to be the fundamental guides for a well-lived life. He held that a happy man is “one who exercises his faculties in accordance with perfect excellence, being duly furnished with external goods, not for any chance of time, but for a full term of years … and who shall continue to live so, and shall die as he lived.”1

Eudaimonia is not concerned with the momentary happiness caused by a particular event. It implies that the person is admirable and lives life to its best. 

Moreover, Aristotle described that every ethical virtue is the intermediate state between the two extremes of that virtue. The two extremes consist of excess and deficiency of a particular virtue. For instance, the virtue of ‘courage’ is the mean between two extremes, one being ‘cowardice’ and the other being ‘foolhardiness’.


How to Live an Aristotelian Life

Aristotle’s theory of happiness rests on three concepts: (1) the virtues, which are good properties of one’s character that benefit oneself and others; (2) phronesis, which is the ability to employ the virtues to the right amount in any particular situation; and (3) eudaimonia, which is a life that is happy, successful and morally good, all at the same time. This month, we …

Originally appeared on Daily Philosophy Read More

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