More stuff from Karl's senior project

An Exploration of Happiness

Happiness is an elusive concept. Many have tried to define it and most have failed. Most people can agree on a basic definition of happiness, but few can really say what causes and perpetuates happiness. Aristotle's argument about what people think makes them happy is still valid today. Wealth, pleasure, power, piety and good health are what most people still consider the root of happiness. Aristotle goes on to say that people really gain happiness from leading a prosperous and virtuous life for their whole lives and not from any one specific thing. These are all still valid points in today's society. People still believe that health or power or money is the root of happiness. However, I disagree with Aristotle's theory of virtue and happiness. I believe happiness does not come from virtuous deeds; rather, happy people do virtuous deeds. People find their happiness in different ways but it all comes down to a state of mind that is reached either by accidental inclination or much time spent soul searching.

Virtuous people will be happy, not because they do virtuous deeds but because they choose to be happy. that either means that they are content with their lives or that they have made a conscious effort to be happy. Mother Teresa probably thought she found her happiness in her religion and God. Her life was founded on the notion of virtuous deeds and performing them made her feel good, but she was already happy. She let her happiness manifest itself in her sevice to her church and the people of the world. An unhappy person would never even have started down that road. Lao Tsu was happy because he was content with his life and his knowledge. He did not ponder the secrets of the universe, he either already knew them, or he acknowledged that he would never know. His happiness stemmed from a deliberate decision to be happy. There are many people who always seem happy or perky and enjoying themselves. This comes from their love of being happy. Being happy is more fun than being sad, so why not be happy? This kind of logic leads people to perpetual happiness even if this happy person is not content.

People who are considered mean or evil are generally not very happy. Aristotle sees the lack of virtuous deeds in mean people as proof that virtuousness brings happiness. I believe that evil people are unhappy because of their life experiences or because of something that is fundamentally wrong within them. This lack of happiness drives them to commit wrongs on others. It is the lack of happiness that creates a lack of virtue and not the other way around. Iago was not unhappy because he did not commit virtuous deeds. He was unhappy because Othello was with Desdemona. Othello, in turn, was unhappy because Iago created that state of mind by messing with his mind (and his jealous nature). Happiness is the easiest state of mind to attain, for all it takes is the will to be happy. Most other states of mind (such as anger, or pain) require, almost by definition, a precipitating outside incident.

However, I do believe that virtue is a key element of happiness. The average happy person wants the whole world to be happy, while the average miserable person wishes the rest of the world pain. The perpetual state of happiness that Aristotle and I refer to is on another level than that state of happiness created by an outside event. Truly happy people will alsays be happy regardless of outside influences. Their goal is to make the rest of the world happy through virtuous deeds. This drive for virtue is created not by an outside influence but by an inside decision to be a good person. The logic behind this decision varies greatly from person to person, but it generally comes down to the fact that it is better for everyone involved if one is virtuous. So the root of happiness could also be said to be partly selfish. I think that being virtuous is more beneficial to me than being without virtue, therefore I will be a good guy. Mother Teresa thinks that she owes God for creating her and so she will be virtuous. Erwin, a devout Christian who has talked to God, believes God told him to be happy, enjoy life and help others to enjoy life. Genie, the definitive perky girl, figures he should enjoy life and so should everyone else. Being virtuous is just a way to help others to seek out their own reasons for happiness. Somewhere inside everyone is a good reason to be happy. The trick is finding it.