If there is a top about the most discussed topics in philosophy, happiness is among them. This topic is the center of some social sciences and philosophical schools of thought. Achieving happiness has been a topic of discussion among thinkers of all ages, and even some bolder people have dared to say they have achieved this ideal.
Bertrand Russell defined happiness as a conquest we must work on. While Diogenes, the maximal defender of cynicism, proposes a return to nature, turning extreme material poverty into a virtue.
When we talk about happiness, what exactly do we mean? How long does this happiness last? And, is it something we can achieve? Estefani Serna
HAPPINESS ACCORDING TO SOME THINKERS
According to philosophy, happiness is linked to being, not to having. Let’s look at some concepts of happiness by some thinkers at different times.
Eudaimonism is a philosophical current. One of its principal founders was the Greek philosopher Aristotle. This current expressed that to achieve happiness, we had to accomplish the goals we set ourselves and reach a state of fullness and harmony of the soul through virtue and wisdom. All this requires good-doing, because a life full of happiness is the consequence of virtuous and ethical actions.
According to Buddha, happiness is within us. When our minds are in perfect calm, our perspective is positive and realistic at the same time, mainly when our thoughts are kindly oriented towards others.
German physicist Albert Einstein had a very particular vision of happiness. In a famous letter delivered to a messenger he ensures that a simple and quiet life brings more joy than the pursuit of success in a constant uneasiness.
What if happiness is pleasure? This is raised by hedonism, a philosophical current that believes that the evasion of pain is a path to happiness. The goal of a hedonist is to enjoy. Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, defender of this doctrine, says that pleasures should not be overflowing but enough, thus excesses cause suffering. Away from the intellectual and wise actions of Aristotle and Plato, Epicurus says that for achieving happiness, we must find inner peace through a quiet life.
Should there be rules for happiness? For the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, happiness is more than a desire, joy, or choice. It is a duty. Kant thought that collectively there should be formal rules, so no one hurts others in their pursuit of happiness.
Psychology defines happiness as subjective and independent in each individual, but this does not imply that each one of us creates our own happiness, but that happiness is built according to the norms and perspectives of each culture and society.
For most Western societies, happiness is in self-fulfilment, obtaining material possessions, and having good people on our side. However, people who do not achieve these goals are often misunderstood, because according to these societies, they are “incomplete” people.
It is known that obtaining these “necessary” issues becomes more comfortable, but will they be enough to achieve happiness? What if we link our happiness to these goods or people, and they suddenly disappear? Where would our happiness go?
On the other hand, in the East, happiness consists of looking for inner peace, being closer to ourselves and really knowing who we are. This state allows us to live in a maximum calm, no matter how desperate the world goes.
The best is to live in the inner silence despite the outside noise and the feelings that stun us. Just think about how many people were told by us “you make me happy” without really knowing what we mean.
Some sages agree that happiness is a kind of paradox. A search for the impossible that we can’t stop doing, what makes you go after a mission. But after finishing it, a new one appears, more exciting than the previous one and then another.
Other more skeptical sages consider happiness not to exist. It is just a collection of happy moments that we experience briefly, and it is not a feeling that lasts for a long time.
Today, happiness is like a treasure map located in a place. We must discover it, either visiting the last country that has become fashionable, buying in the most popular shops, and practicing trend sports. We are always looking for something else, but the yearned fullness does not arrive.
The conception of happiness varies depending on the time and type of society. That is why the concept of happiness changes frequently. Today we have contemporary happiness, and behind it, there is a frantic quest to achieve happiness as an endless number of things to do.
Society and its entire system have reinvented themselves very intelligently in all eras to give us a guide to happiness. In ancient Rome, they did it with bread and circus.
The excitement caused for going to the Coliseum and witnessing battles between slaves to death was unmatched. Besides, they handed out slices of bread to increase attendees’ enthusiasm and think that they needed nothing while they were there watching people die.
In the last century, happiness was closely linked to obtaining material possessions and the comfort that they could offer us. A luxurious home, with a beautiful wife and perfect children. Also the fact of working 30 years in the same company waiting for an aspired retirement with pension was the vast majority’s goal.
It gives us a kind of checklist of things to do that never ends, we believe there are always more things to live, and we get into this vicious circle in which we think of happiness as a synonym of excessive consumerism.
But they no longer sell us consumerism about obtaining material goods as in past times, but for getting experiences and emotions. Today they sell us “dreams of happiness.”
All this is for annulling the rational part of our brains and getting into a dynamic where we cannot see what there is at the bottom. Then we enter into a obsesion that we want to obtain and buy emotions no matter what.
When we are not doing this, we feel empty, and we think that life does not make sense because there are many to do that we are missing out and evidently, this cycle generates a lot of anguish.
BEING HAPPY IN AN UNHAPPY WORLD?
Stoicism has a very personal view of happiness, and one of the keys for achieving it is that we must receive the events of life as neutral and stop labeling actions as wrong or right, and above all, focus on the things that depend on us and stop worrying about those that do not depend on our control.
With this idea, the stoicism that gained popularity since the Emperor Marcus Aurelius used this philosophy of life to combat Rome’s crisis, promises a happier and fuller life.
Surely we will never be able to agree on what happiness is and how to get to it. Perhaps we can take refuge in philosophy. It may help us to discover what happiness is not and to stop fooling ourselves with false expectations and ephemeral dreams of happiness which will make us suffer a lot once the false illusion is discovered.
Our idea of happiness influences our attitude and how we see the world, but this concept seems not to be lasting in time, which means it can be a utopia.
Think of this last question. Can anyone be happy doing wrong?