Views of Happiness
Philosophers attribute happiness to two subject matters; a state of mind and a life that is going on well according to the person leading it. Aristotle describes happiness as the purpose and meaning of life, the whole purpose, and the end of human existence. Happiness is dependent on us. People have different views of happiness. Some people attribute happiness to spirituality, virtuosity, and reverence while others see it as the joy and inner peace that comes from within, and others associate happiness with personal environments including rewarding hobbies and careers. All in all, psychologists have suggested that happiness comprises three elements namely the good life, the pleasant life, and the meaningful life. The purpose of this essay is to probe various views of happiness particularly Hedonism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Buddhism. The text further discusses the mot life-denying and life-affirming level of happiness and provides reasoning for each case.
Hedonism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Buddhism Explained
Hedonism is a Greek word meaning pleasure. It is a theory that explains what is good for people, how they are expected to behave, and the motivations behind these behaviors. Hedonism maintains that the predominance of pleasure over pain is the recipe for happiness. In essence, it holds that fulfilling a certain desire leads to a person’s happiness regardless of the pleasure or displeasure they get from it. Hedonistic theories point to pain and pleasure as they only significant elements and this makes the theory philosophically interesting and distinctive (Biswas-Diener, & Wiese, 2018). On the other hand, Epicureanism held that the most pleasant life requires abstaining from unnecessary desires and achieving tranquility from being satisfied with simple things, and selecting the pleasure philosophical conversations over the pursuit of pleasures that are physical like drinks, sex, and food. Epicureanism stressed more on thoughts of pleasure, lifestyle, and desire among others in achieving happiness. Furthermore, Stoicism was based on the notion that the key to a happy and good life is having an excellent state of mind, an aspect which Stoics associated with being rational and virtuous. In this viewpoint, an ideal life exists harmoniously with nature and exhibits a calm attitude towards external events. Finally, to pursue happiness Buddhism uses practice and knowledge to attain mental equanimity. Hence by attaining a mental state where one can detach themselves from the needs, passions, and wants of life, one frees themselves and attains a transcendent state of well-being. Buddhists believe that peace of mind, also referred to as equanimity is attained by disassociating yourself with the craving cycle which produces mental suffering (dukkha).
Hedonism as a Life-denying View of Happiness
Among the four theories of happiness, hedonism is the most life-denying approach to defining happiness for various reasons. Hedonism stresses that a happy life is one that seeks to minimize pain and maximizes feelings relating to pleasure. However, this notion has been criticized on moral grounds because it is non-beneficial to long-term happiness. There have been various mechanisms of this paradox that have been explained and examples of pleasure seekers that ended in despair particularly in behaviors of use of stimulants and frequent sex. Sometimes pleasure can too much and there is no way of determining how much is too much pleasure. This viewpoint of happiness can be termed as life-denying because the proponents are seen to justify drug abuse as an act that gives its users pleasure. The pleasure is however short-lived. Further, drug abuse only serves to make a person a spendthrift as opposed to making him save for the future. Hedonism fails to recognize that financial and health prudence gives a person long-term happiness but at the expense of discomfort which is experienced short term (Joshanloo, & Jarden 2016). In this case, the theory of hedonists applies to the marginal utility law which warrants drug users to continue using if they want to get the same amount of pleasure. Notably, this consumerism eventually leads to overexploitation of natural resources which negates environmental and sustainable resources. In essence, the hedonist standpoint of happiness warrants seeking pleasure constantly, and it is not guaranteed that it will produce the most pleasure both in the short-run and long-run as pursuing pleasure constantly interferes with the process of experiencing it.
Stoicism as a Life-affirming View of Happiness
Among the four mentioned theories of happiness, stoicism is the most life-affirming. The viewpoint is all about how humans can live in harmony with nature. Unlike other animals, human beings possess reason which helps them alter how they view themselves and their true good. Stoicism is life-affirming because it stresses on a love for all. Proponents of the theory viewed this theory as a philosophy of love and showed concern not only for themselves but also for friends, nature, and nature itself. This theory is interested in improving welfare for humanity. Another reason why the Stoics viewpoint is life-affirming is that it maintains that human beings should do their best to control what they can and let go of what they cannot control (Robertson, 2018). Stoics made it clear that the things which we can control are our attitudes and thoughts; everything thing else outside of this category cannot be controlled. This viewpoint of happiness achieving an excellent state of mind comes from concentrating on things one can control instead of wasting emotional energy on things we cannot control. Additionally, Stoicism holds that human beings act in accordance with their goals and interests including wealth and health. We do our best to navigate through life’s challenges and relate to the interests of other people.
Happiness is attributed to a state of mind and a life that is going on well according to the person leading it. Happiness is dependent on us and people have different views of happiness. Hedonism places emphasis on pleasure over pain. Epicureanism urges us to let go of unnecessary pleasures and to be satisfied with simple things, Further Stoicism holds that being in an excellent state of mind is the key to happiness while Buddhism uses knowledge and practices in equanimity to pursue happiness. Among the four theories of happiness, hedonism is the most life-denying approach to defining happiness while Stoicism is the most life-affirming approach to happiness.
Biswas-Diener, R., & Wiese, C. W. (2018). Optimal levels of happiness. Handbook of well-being. Salt Lake City, UT: DEF Publishers.
Joshanloo, M., & Jarden, A. (2016). Individualism as the moderator of the relationship between hedonism and happiness: A study in 19 nations. Personality and Individual Differences, 94, 149-152.
Robertson, D. (2018). Stoicism and the Art of Happiness: Practical wisdom for everyday life: embrace perseverance, strength, and happiness with stoic philosophy. Hachette UK.