Happiness is the ultimate end and purpose of human existence. – Aristotle
We say “Happy New Year” or “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Anniversary.” Now all of these expressions refer to the pleasant feelings — the joys or satisfactions which we may have at one moment and not at another. In this meaning of the word, it is quite possible for us to feel happy at one moment and not at the next. This is not Aristotle’s meaning of the word. Nor, when you think about it for a moment, can it be the meaning of the word in the Declaration of
Independence. Thomas Jefferson and other signers of the Declaration had read Aristotle and
Plato. This was part of their education.
It seems that our unique function is to reason: by reasoning things out we attain our ends, solve our problems, and hence live a life that is qualitatively different in kind from plants or animals. The good for a human is different from the good for an animal because we have different capacities or potentialities. We have a rational capacity and the exercising of this capacity is thus the perfecting of our natures as human beings. For this reason, pleasure alone cannot constitute human happiness, for pleasure is what animals seek and human beings have higher capacities than animals. The goal is not to annihilate our physical urges, however, but rather to channel them in ways that are appropriate to our natures as rational animals.
Thus Aristotle gives us his definition of happiness:
…the function of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.
According to Aristotle, happiness consists in achieving, through the course of a whole lifetime all the goods — health, wealth, knowledge, friends, etc., that lead to the perfection of human nature and to the enrichment of human life. This requires us to make choices, some of which may be very difficult. Often the lesser good promises immediate pleasure and is more tempting, while the greater good is painful and requires some sort of sacrifice. For example, it may be easier and more enjoyable to spend the night watching television, but you know that you will be better off if you spend it researching for your term paper. Developing a good character requires a strong effort of will to do the right thing, even in difficult situations.
He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.
Life is simple but we keep on making it complicated. My new year’s resolution is simple. I will be better than last year, I will be better than I was ever before. I will make my whole past life count this year and for the each coming year I live. Because for me there can be no happiness other than getting better and improving myself.
Have a nice, blessed and happy year ahead…