The concept of happiness is an evasive one. It is something you can recognize once you feel it, however you cannot always pinpoint it without feeling it. Of course there are objects, moments, or actions that a person knows makes them happy, but is it possible to completely achieve full happiness in one’s life? Aristotle went so far as to write a whopping ten books about the very broad idea of happiness and well-being called Nicomachean Ethics. He’s not the only one. Countless philosophers, poets, and even scientists have grappled with this idea.
The idea of happiness and the journey to attain it is somewhat the central idea of human nature and even our history. The creators of the Declaration of Independence deemed the pursuit of happiness so important that they took the time to put it in the document as a citizen’s right (Sheldon). We as a society have almost become obsessed with the pursuit itself. The main goal of life is to be completely happy, so therefore one must set out on a mission to find it. “Journey” is not the right word for this chase, however “mission” is perfect because of how focused it is. Being so fixated on this concept could be seen as a good thing or a bad thing. It is known that perseverance will always triumph, so that may be true. However, Nathaniel Hawthorne was quoted saying, “happiness is as a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
There was a study published saying that the bombarding of promotions of happiness and messages being widely sent out actually makes people feel even worse about themselves because of the pressure (What Is This Obsession). Therefore, in that perspecitive, the pursuit of happiness may actually make us unhappy. There are many theories and step-by-step instructions on how one can achieve full happiness. The majority of the key points among instructions are something along the line of being the best version of yourself that you can be. “Be generous,” “smile,” “count your blessings,” “forgive and forget,” “be honest,” and other tidbits similar to those aforementioned are supposedly the basis of how to become happy (How to Find True Happiness). In addition to that, there are many other theories of what is the true source of contentment. One is that the environment that surrounds you is what can make or break you in terms of whether you are happy or not. “Between friends there is no need for justice, but people who are just still need the quality of friendship; and indeed friendliness is considered to be justice in the fullest sense. It is not only a necessary thing but a splendid one (Aristotle).” Others around us, including our society as a whole, not just our friends and acquaintances, can evoke feelings of happiness or simply the opposite or even something completely different. Another theory is that a person’s wealth is what brings them joy and contentment. Daniel Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” gave an extremely simple, yet concrete explanation about this relationship between money and happiness.
“The idea that money makes you happy, that each dollar buys you a fixed amount of happiness, that everybody gets the same amount from every dollar is obviously wrong. But the idea that money is unrelated to happiness is also ridiculous. And all you have to do is go stand outside with no coat, no shoes, nowhere to go and hungry and in about five minutes you go ‘wow, money would make me happier’ and you’re right. So money is obviously related to happiness, but its relationship is intricate and complex.” These presented theories are all solid reasoning and foundations of why finding full happiness for one’s self is very much attainable. However, there are a few points on the opposite end of the spectrum that argue otherwise. Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950, made a very valid point. He was quoted saying, “I do not believe that such contemplation on the whole tends to happiness. It gives moments of delight, but these are outweighed by years of effort and depression.” Another famous man named Victor Frankl said that “happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.
One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’” He also said that our relentless hunt for happiness the main problem. “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.” There was a study on a stimulated situation much like this and the findings back up Frankl perfectly. “People putting the greatest emphasis on being happy reported 50 percent less frequent positive emotions, 35 percent less satisfaction about their life, and 75 percent more depressive symptoms (Cooper).” All of these theories, findings, and explanations create a perfect combination for a winning dose of “who knows?”
Maybe finding pure and true happiness is possible; maybe it’s not. It is almost as if there are too many variables out there to get a straightforward and completely accurate answer to this thought provoking question. It might take years for someone to come up with a foolproof answer to the question because it has so many variables that cannot be controlled. People are kind of odd that way. One thing may make one person happy, but that doesn’t necessarily make another feel the same way.
Within his writings, Aristotle says “our account of this science will be adequate if it achieves such clarity as the subject-matter allows; for the same degree of precision is not to be expected in all discussions, any more than in all products of handicraft.” This mostly serves as a warning to the reader to keep in mind that there are no exact rules for happiness; there is no right or wrong answer. For example, to each his own. We may never be one hundred percent sure that attaining complete and total happiness is actually possible. It seems to be thought of as more like a natural acquiring than a forced or precisely known action.
The intensity of this often overlooked human experience is appalling. Just stop and ponder for a moment how complex we as human beings are, and then the fact that our bodies and brains can even function to the point of creating relationships, thoughts, or feelings that bring on this profound wave of satisfaction and enjoyment that we label as “happiness.” Aristotle said it best: “[T]he good for man is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, or if there are more kinds of virtue than one, in accordance with the best and most perfect kind.”