you can find the world in a person's diary who thinks He's the world

Jul 2, 2014

Defining Happiness

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle wrote, “the happy man lives well and does well; for we have practically defined happiness as a sort of good life and good action.”  Happiness is not, he argued, equivalent to wealth, honor, or pleasure. ~ Carol V. Hamilton

Question: Do you think happiness is a) the end of all means or b) the end of all other ends?


Aristotle defined a happy man, but left the definition of happiness unclear. This post is an ongoing effort to define happiness. If you can help with your comments and suggestions, we can get there quicker.

I hit a wall thinking what makes a human live well and do well. I imagined a human and tried answering what makes him/her do and live well. After a few minutes, I thought I should read more to be able to define happiness based on its contributing elements. I then stopped thinking about an imaginary human being and started thinking what would make me happy, and suddenly the wall vanished!

I would stay happy on the long run if everything in my life went according to my plans. I have desires, the achievement of which and may be in some cases, the pursuit of which will keep me happy. For example, I'll do well as long as I am able to create a positive impact in other people's lives, which will enable them to achieve their goals.

It goes without saying that I'll not be happy when I'm unable to reach my goals or when I work towards my plans, but they fail.

Therefore, in trying to define happiness, we can certainly say that happiness is the emotional state when we are able to achieve our goals or thinking that we are on our way to achieving our goals. There goals could be personal, familial or societal.

... in the 1690 essay Concerning Human Understanding. There, in a long and thorny passage, Locke wrote:
The necessity of pursuing happiness is the foundation of liberty. Therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of TRUE and SOLID happiness... ~ Carol V. Hamilton (emphasis mine)
What is true and solid happiness might be based on the types of our goals, the effort we put into them, and what we consciously or unconsciously lost in their pursuit.

When defining happiness, it helps to define what it is not. We can take Aristotle's help here.
Happiness is NOT
- Wealth/property
- Honor
- Pleasure
- a combination of just these 3
- suggestions?

Happiness is NOT POSSIBLE WHEN you are
- in danger
- under stress
- suggestions?

Here, I have to mention that on the 21st of June, during a lengthy discussion on "what's the most important thing in life?', within two iterations, three of us friends arrived at the conclusion that the answer is happiness. The three of us - because of the kind of people we are - showed a specific bias towards not falling into the "rut of life", but knowing where our lives are going at all times and actively making changes to MAXIMIZE happiness.

If we can extrapolate this to human development/well-being/welfare (I don't know the difference), people should be able to actively make changes to their lives to do what they WANT(?) to, or end up doing things which make them happy.

It is very likely that I'll explore the following next
- Happiness is the end of all means/ends
- Human development vs. human well being vs. pursuit of happiness
- Why do people opt happiness over other emotions like sorrow or surprise?

This is an ongoing exploration. Help with your thoughts, links, anger and opinions. Be generous :)

I am an environmental consultant trying to understand decision making. Exploring why one should or should not do anything, and extending it to leaders who decide for others.

1 comment:


Hey Ranjith

After a long time I have again come across your blog post. M sorry if I have missed many.. again its me at loss :)

So the post... quite different context w.r.t your earlier write-ups that I have read.

Defining Happiness ! well every one has their take on it. Every one has a reason for not being happy. Many may even know what might make them happy. Its just how you reach that goal ... and when. That long or short waiting process... once done, at the end of it when one really feels "satisfied" of accomplishing the task... triggering a smile from one's heart... may indicate that person is Happy.

Again... its a tricky question if your looking at it in qualitative or quantitative terms..

eg. I always wanted to cycle... got a job bought my first geared cycle .. M happy
Now I want started liking mountain biking... I feel If i get to do Manali to Leh cycling i may be even happier...

Sm spontaneous stuff i came up with. Anyways good luck in your search :)

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