The Pursuit of Happiness :)

Inherently, human minds are programmed to do things that make them happy. It could be anything from reading, journaling, writing to hearing music. Or it could even be in the small actions of other humans such as kindness, empathy, a listening ear or just hearing the voice of your loved ones.

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher on his work “The Nicomachean Ethics”(dedicating the book to his son Nicomachus) said that happiness consists of ‘activity of the soul in accordance with virtue'.

He used the term “Eudaimonia”, which is Greek for ‘happiness’ or ‘welfare’. (We will get to that later).

We feel happy when we achieve something important to us and when we achieve it, it makes us feel virtuous and thus happy.

Now, what is virtue? Virtue isn't a one time deal, donating to charitable trusts once or volunteering in an NGO once doesn't make you virtuous.

According to Aristotle, Virtue is a habit. You cannot teach someone how to be a good person or how to act the right way, instead, it is something that comes through practice. In essence, virtue is something that you have to keep practising as a habit in order to achieve it.

The more one reads about it the more introspective one becomes of themselves that is their upbringing, their roots, their choices and their morals which loosely translated are the parameters that shape a person’s consciousness.

In simpler terms, happiness a function of life, the driving force of humans. The force that gets us out of bed every morning.

  1. For example, say you have won a lottery of a certain amount and you want to buy something materialistic, say a car.
  2. Well, you can ask yourself, why do you want to buy a car? Because you want to travel from point A to point B
  3. And why do you want to travel from point A to point B? Well to achieve a certain goal
  4. And why do you want to achieve a certain goal?…. You can say because achieving goals make you happy.

But if happiness is a function of life why aren’t we all happy then? Why do we suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression and why does happiness seem like a tough task to achieve?

*cringes*

I find it kind of farcical that a lot of self-help books have tried to answer this above question, almost to a point of over-saturation. When it has already been answered in 340 BC by Aristotle in his work ”Nicomachean Ethics”. And partly by the Stoic philosophy by Epictetus which when loosely translated means the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and complaint. Then again the books have been restructured to fit the modern world.

Even if you’re not knowing it, there’s a good chance that you’re practising stoicism even without knowing it. For example, meditating, journaling, and practice of self-restraint, they are all forms of stoicism that simply is a healthy way to vent unhealthy emotions without discarding them.

Aristotle points out that there is an excess and deficiency to each of our actions. For example:

  • If you are too scared of something then you are a coward, but if you are too fearless then you are overconfident.
  • If you get offended by humour too much then you are boring, but if you make too many jokes then you are un-serious.

He lists out a number of contradictory statements. But he states that to each of these extremes there lies a “Golden Mean”.

the balance
the balance

It is by habit only that you can find yourself the mean in each situation you find yourself in. Your reaction in a situation can say a lot about your personality, more than you can imagine. The Myers Briggs type indicator abbreviated as MBTI is a personality test which uses this characteristic to help identify and categorize a personality.

Here is the link if you want to try it out.

MBTI-Test

Aristotle also emphasizes that there is a capacity for each individual both mentally and physically.

Say, for example, you find yourself in a conflict or an unavoidable situation. Now in these types of scenarios normally people would react on any one of these possibilities:

  1. Fight or flight syndrome- This uncertainty or unexpected obstacle causes anxiety in you and you react disagreeably or you run away from it.
  2. Being pro-active- To calmly communicate your problems healthily and reaching an understanding.

Snapping out occurs when something causes the human mind to react out of his/her own mental capacity thus creating an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and hence cause more harm. That is why Aristotle said to always act within one’s mental and emotional capacity and hence find your own healthy balance in life and happiness.

For many of us, there exists a gap between what we perceive ourselves being capable of and what we have achieved. This gap can sometimes get too vast leading to anxiety and feelings of existential crisis. While for others it might even be the opposite situation, that is, when you are able to achieve more, but you are not able to recognize it yet.

Thus, concluding “Eudaimonia” more specifically means “the human flourishing” and that happiness is not something to be achieved and rather a state of being. It is more about understanding your own capabilities and acting upon it.

That is the key to happiness and that is my perception and understanding of “The Nicomachean Ethics”.

Thanks for reading.

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An undergrad CS student keen on programming and psychology.

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Priyadarshini Acharjee

Priyadarshini Acharjee

An undergrad CS student keen on programming and psychology.

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