Tuesday, April 8, 2014

H: Happiness: I'll Take the Greeks Over Pharrell Williams #AtoZChallenge

The past few weeks have been tough. Simply, I have experienced more than a little momentary unhappiness recently. Perhaps that's one reason I question contemporary views of happiness and prefer to take more of a long view of happiness. In a sense, I'm more like Aristotle than like Pharrell.

The Greek word for happiness is eudaimonia. Aristotle and his contemporaries thought of happiness as "living well and doing well." To Aristotle, flourishing and thriving over time led to happiness.

In contrast, modern culture equates happiness with feelings. Happiness is the presence of positive feelings and the absence of negative ones. A list of synonyms for happiness include: joy, pleasure, exhilaration, bliss, delight, enjoyment, contentment--all words couched in emotional connotation.

Even as far back as the 15th Century, English usage associated happiness with luck and prosperity. Maybe that's why our culture accepts the conventional wisdom that the more monetary wealth one has, the happier one is, despite evidence to the contrary.

Writing about eudaimonia in The Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Aristotle refers to "some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake." He also describes eudaimonia as "the highest of all goods achieved by action."

Our challenge is to determine what is worth "the pursuit of happiness" longterm and what is not. Too often I see students opting for immediate gratification rather than thinking about what in the long run will bring them happiness, what ultimately creates a life of living and doing well.

Thus, it's fair to say, that true happiness in the Greek sense can't be assessed in the moment. It can only be evaluated in the long run. Aristotle speaks of the importance of finality:

"We call that which is in itself worthy of pursuit more final than that which is worthy of pursuit for the sake of something else, and that which is never desirable for the sake of something else more final than the things that are desirable both in themselves and for the sake of that other thing, and therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else." (Nicomachean Ethics via Trinity University).

In thinking about the normal ups and downs of life, I've attempted to focus on the long view, knowing that I can't live in a state of bliss every moment of every day but that I will have good and bad days, tough times amid joyous ones.

I don't feel much like clapping along with Pharrell today, but maybe I will tomorrow. That's the way life goes, so I'm not too worried about my temporary absence of happiness because I have faith in eudaimonia. I'm in it for the long haul.


  1. Interesting!
    Thanks for visiting my blog through A-Z Challenge...I will be back :)

  2. I'm sorry to hear that you are unhappy at the moment. I am menopausal so definitely feel the ups and downs of mood swings and Love that Pharrell Williams video!

    1. Thank you. I've taken on a lot of extra work this year. No major crisis. Just the normal ups and downs of life's demands.

  3. This post reminded me of my college days. I double majored in writing and philosophy, and I spent a lot of time getting acquainted with Aristotle. I think it's important to balance both the long term and the short term. You need to plan for the future and live well to make it better over time, but we also need to seek a little non-destructive instant gratification once in awhile. We never know for sure how long we have, and it would be a shame to live only for a specific, far-off future only in the end not to make it there.

    Great post! I hope you can clap along with Pharrell soon.

    -L.G. Keltner, minion in Captain Alex's Ninja Army

    1. Couldn't agree more. Thank you. Indeed, balance is key. I do like the Parrell song and have had reason to clap today. :-)

  4. Hi Glenda. I asked my children (in our whole school assembly) what they thought would be on the list scientists had recently published about things that would make people happy (my school ranges from 4-11 year olds) and their first 8 answers were all in the scientists top ten - their answers included keeping ourselves healthy and caring for others - I think our futures look bright if the next generation already know what scientists appear to have taken years to deduce!! Of course I played Pharrell as they came in and left assembly and that made me happy just watching them smile when they recognised the song! http://pempispalace.blogspot.co.uk/