I’ve been doing some research for a book I am writing which is about happiness. I have absolutely no idea why I am writing a book about happiness. I suppose I am as qualified as anyone to speak about the subject and when asked at age 14 by my mother what I wanted to do when I was a bit older I said I didn’t care as long as I was happy. Now this could have been the answer of a pretentious child or a fairly manipulative child, who knows. Anyway here I am today and i’m surrounded by books and articles about the philosophical and psychological aspects of this thing we call happiness. So far so good. Life and death are one and the same so it seemed rational to look at happiness and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as Jefferson put it as this seems to be one of the main purposes or reasons for living.
Now I don’t mind telling you this is a big subject. No sh*t sherlock. There are some heavyweights who have already spent more time than I ever could in exploring the subject and it get’s very complicated very very quickly.
What is happiness? How do we define it? Can we measure it, is there any point? So i’m not sure what I can add to the conversation but I want to lay it all out what i’ve learned and what i know from experience into something digestible and useful for anyone who cares to read it. That’s if it ever gets published of course.
I wanted to start at the beginning and started to look at Aristotle, now what’s interesting is that Aristotle was around at about the same time as Shakyamuni (Buddha). Scholars can’t agree on when Buddha was born but roughly around 560BC seems to be safe and Aristotle was around a few years later in 384 BCE. I have found that there were a lot of similarities in the thinking of these men, especially when it comes to Happiness. For Aristotle the main work is the Nicomachean Ethics. It should be pointed out that in the time of Aristotle Ethics meant something quite different to the meaning it has today.
For Aristotle Ethics was the nature of human well being and was defined by the closest thing to happiness the ancients appear to have (it may surprise you as it did me, that ‘Happy’ is a fairly modern word) and that is good action and virtue. This word is Eudaimonia which means human flourishing or welfare – Etymologically, it consists of the words “eu” (“good”) and “daimōn” (“spirit”). It is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and political philosophy, along with the terms “aretē“, most often translated as “virtue” or “excellence”, and “phronesis“, often translated as “practical or ethical wisdom”. In Aristotle’s works, eudaimonia was (based on older Greek tradition) used as the term for the highest human good, and so it is the aim of practical philosophy, including ethics and political philosophy, to consider (and also experience) what it really is, and how it can be achieved…