Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What is happiness?

Most philosophers and historians agree that the concept of happiness in antiquity centered around good luck and fortune, whereas contemporary Americans view happiness as something over which they have control and something that they can actively pursue.

In The Symposium, Socrates argues that the education of desire is a key to happiness. That is, Socrates insisted that children should learn to appreciate the beauty of individuals and nature, so that they can acquire the appreciation for knowledge and wisdom as adults and approach happiness properly. 

Nussbaum  argues that the dominant view today of eudaimonia 
(also known as Eudaemonism) is a Greek word, which refers to a state of having a good indwelling spirit or being in a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous. In moral philosophy, eudaimonia is used to refer to the right actions as those that result in the well-being of an individual.as controllable stems from Kant and his influential followers. 

More importantly, Nussbaum emphasizes that Aristotle used the Greek term makariot├ęs (fortune, blessing) interchangeably with eudaimonia, which indicates that living well to Aristotle also meant being blessed. Thus, the original meaning of happiness and a good life is being fortunate, lucky, and blessed, which were highly contingent upon external conditions. This fragile, external view of happiness was dominant for centuries. 

Over time happiness moved from being something that was external to us to an internal process. St. Thomas Aquinas clarified the role of human effort in the process of eudemonia, which he conceived as becoming closer to God. 

Aquinas claimed that partial happiness can be achieved in this life via the theological virtues’ of charity, hope, and faith. 

This signaled an important departure from ancient Greece in that Aristotle and Plato viewed happiness as something that can be achieved only by a small number of extremely fortunate and talented individuals, whereas Aquinas viewed partial happiness as obtainable by everyone via a divine gift. 

In the 16th century, Martin Luther went one step further, claiming that it was not a sin to be happy, and that Christians should be merry…To live life as a justified man was apparently to experience the world as a ‘pleasure garden for the soul.

Thomas Jefferson’s 1776, Declaration of Independence included the pursuit of happiness along with life and liberty as an unalienable right. The emphasis on an active pursuit of happiness stands in stark contrast to the more passive luck/fortune/fate concept of happiness. 

Because Jefferson was very familiar with the writings of John Locke, who had discussed the rights to life, liberty, and property a century earlier, many speculated that what Jefferson meant was the pursuit of private property and wealth. 

However, other scholars including McMahon Concepts of Happiness (2006), speculated that what Jefferson meant was the pursuit of private happiness. Jefferson firmly believed that private happiness comes from being a good citizen, rather than the pursuit of ever-evolving desires for material wealth; he also believed that maximizing private happiness does not contradict maximizing public (collective) happiness. 

In spontaneous responses to “What is happiness to you?” several German participants mentioned “surprising events,” whereas few South Africans did. This suggests that the German concept of happiness contains an element of luck and fortune. 

Wierzbicka (2004) also observed that German, French, Polish, and Russian equivalents of “happiness” and “happy” evoke a rare state, compared to English terms. This also suggests that many rare conditions need to be met (thus one must be lucky) for someone to be happy in German, French, Polish, and Russian cultural contexts. 

Happiness as luck or fortune is fairly wide-spread even today.There are variations in the definition of happiness within the same language (e.g., Australia vs. the U.S; Guatemala vs. Spain). 

This suggests the influence of local culture and history in conceptualizations of happiness. Variations in conceptualizations of happiness across languages, cultures, and time have important implications on what we mean when we say we are happy. 

Being happy is subjective and means different things to people in different parts of the world. So the idea of happiness depends on your thoughts, well-being and where you live. So as Bobby McFern sings Don't Worry be happy no matter what it means to others.


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