It seems everyone wants happiness. If you google “happiness” more the three million results pop up; and thousands of self-help books are written on the subject to help us be happy; thousands of products are sold with the promise of happiness. Yet, it seems only few people are truly happy over long periods of time. I see patients dying of terminal illnesses almost everyday. Sometimes I come across a patient that has been truly happy during their whole life, they are content and have no regrets about the situation they find themselves in. They almost seems to laugh in the face of fear , they breath with ease, are relaxed and feel at peace. They feel that they got all they need and done all they needed to do in this life ; they are ready for the next stage of their being, whatever that may be. Those that have never been happy for any length of time are usually more fearful, agitated and suffer from mental anguish; they are not ready to leave this world. They usually have regrets about the life they lived; they made many wrong choices along the way. The question is, what are the right choices; so we do not make the same mistakes. This is the question I often ask myself and wonder if I am making the right choices in my life. I have looked at the self-help books, different religions, spoke to many spiritual people ,but never found a satisfactory answer. However, ancient philosophers may give us some insight as to what these right choices maybe.
Happiness is commonly used word, most people use it to mean psychological happiness. Which is to say when our mental state is content or satisfied by getting what ever we want then we feel happy for that moment; or unhappy when our wants are denied , frustrated or unfulfilled for that moment. In this meaning of the happiness we can feel it in our bodies when we are happy or not; further more we are conscious of being happy or sad. So psychological happiness is a state of mind that is content and satisfied when all desires and wishes are fulfilled, resulting in a feeling of happiness of which we are conscious. This kind of happiness never last for ever, it is dependent on whether our desires and wishes are fulfilled. The videos and the quotes I posted above are mostly dealing with this kind of happiness. It comes and goes fleetingly, dependent on our fulfillment of the desires.
Is there a another kind of happiness, that is not psychological in kind and lasts for the whole lifetime? Aristotle and many other since the ancient times thought it so; that there is another kind of happiness. For Aristotle , “Happiness consisted in a complete life lived in accordance with virtue, and accompanied by a moderate possession of external goods”. When I first read this , I didn’t grasp the full wisdom of this simple statement. Notice he is talking about happiness in a complete life time as opposed to the temporary psychological happiness which may only last for very short time. This happiness is to be cultivated with passage of time , over ones whole life span. Only when life is over , can we say that it was a good life, that individual who lived it achieved happiness.One can compare it to a hockey game, we can only say a hockey game was a great game once the game is over, until then we can only say the game is promising to be a great game.
How does Aristotle propose we cultivate this happiness? He makes the argument that we cultivate virtue – by which , he means one should cultivate all the perfections that human being should attain and enrich ones life with only the real goods ( which are good for us) as opposed to merely apparent goods ( which can be bad for us). He actually puts it even stronger, he says we ought to cultivate these perfections and acquire these real goods even if we don’t want too. The real goods are those that fulfill our inherent human needs as opposed to just our acquired individual needs. We will talk about these goods more in the next half of this article which will be coming soon.
1. A Vision of the Future
By Mortimer J. Adler
2. Six Great Ideas
By Mortimer J. Adler