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In my philosophy class, we talked about Aristotle and how he defined true happiness. For him, true happiness is acquired when you know yourself and accomplish yourself and false happiness is simply people that don't know themselves and think they are happy without being it really.

The other source of information that pushed me to ask is this video from actualized.org How to get shit done In his video he suggests that you will get happiness by transforming your dreams into results. The video isn't about this subject, he just hovers over the subject with this statement.

Basically, all this is suggesting to me: "You aren't happy, act like this so you will get happier but doing this will require a lot of effort during the process." I have no problems making efforts to be rewarded after but I need confirmation that I'm not doing all that for nothing and for now, my only confirmations are subjective speeches from people. What I want is the rational explanation behind those statements.

How does living a pathetic life where you don't realise your dreams without knowing/voluntarily ignoring you could have a better life is worse than having a good life with mass results?

The thing is, my current answer to this question is the exact opposite of my answer to the "Should I take drugs questions ?" question. I don't do drugs because, while knowing it could give me extra pleasure, I don't need this extra pleasure since I've never experienced it. Plus, it would bring me additional problems in my life.

I can think the same with self-accomplishment. Why would I accomplish myself if I've never experienced true happiness so I don't need it? Plus, the efforts required to do so will be painful.

Of course, I don't think "this is right", this is just the argument I think about when I want to be lazy but if I could counter this argument with a rational explanation, I could motivate myself even more to make the effort to realise my dreams.

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    Happiness is a mental state that arises from being physiologically healthy, and free from serious mental worries.
    – Cdn_Dev
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 20:51
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    @CanadianCoder Is that the same as saying: "Happiness is when the will is at rest (i.e., when you desire no more)?"
    – Geremia
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 13:39
  • Happiness is relative, becauss whatever you want you think will get you more of it.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 22:43
  • Wow, there is a lot more to Aristotle's ethics and politics than just what you were told.
    – r0k1m
    Commented May 2, 2023 at 11:17

3 Answers 3

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St. Thomas Aquinas, who was a follower of Aristotle in many things, has 32 questions on happiness (felicitas) in his Treatise on Man's Last End (Summa Theologica I-II qq. 1-5) or purpose, which he says is twofold:

  • to attain happiness, which is "the acquisition of the last end" or purpose (ibid. q. 1 a. 8)

and

  • happiness itself, which is the last end.

cf. also his commentary on Aristotle's Ethics bk. 1, which is on happiness


Your question seems similar to Objection 3 of St. Thomas's question "Whether one man can be happier than another?" (ibid. q. 5 a. 2):

Objection 3: Further, since Happiness is "the perfect and sufficient good" (Ethic. i, 7) it brings rest to man's desire. But his desire is not at rest, if he yet lacks some good that can be got. And if he lack nothing that he can get, there can be no still greater good. Therefore either man is not happy; or, if he be happy, no other Happiness can be greater.

Similarly with you: It seems you claim that because you have not attained the perfect happiness possible for man to attain, then your will does not seek anything greater and is thus at rest, your being satisfied with being in a state of lesser happiness. However, your very asking this question here shows this is not true. Your will is not at rest; it seeks something more (in this case: to know more about happiness).

Related: Ignorance is not bliss because the will always moves the intellect to know more (cf. his question: "Whether every man desires happiness?")

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You have asked two questions.
To the first - yes, happiness is relative. An example of this, is a poor and humble person being very happy to receive a gift that a more affluent person would consider "trash."
As to the second - whether you may want more happiness or not, that depends on your current state of satisfaction and whether you consider the "cost" to obtain more happiness - worth it.

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Seeking happiness for happiness' sake is not a "smart" course of action.

Aristotle's description of happiness seems similar to an existentialism idea of living the authentic self.

To break this down a bit, if you are true to yourself and your desires and do the things you value in life, your result is likely to be happiness. It isn't about seeking to increase the magnitude of said happiness.

I can think the same with self-accomplishment. Why would I accomplish myself if I've never experienced true happiness so I don't need it. Plus, efforts required to do so will be painful.

I see two ways to react to this,

One, if you are satisfied with your self-accomplishments and the pace that you reach them you are likely to have a reduction in happiness if you increase the pace.

Two, all self-accomplishments will take effort and at times be painful, if you are wanting to achieve a goal, whatever that goal might be, you have to decide if it is worth the effort, pain, and risk. No one else can decide for you. Only after completing the goal will you be able to reflect on if it is worth the time and effort.

Sure happiness is relative, but if you are true to yourself it will be relatively easy to be happy. How difficult it is to be true to one's self is perhaps less easy however...

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  • I am relatively happy right now because I have accomplished myself a bit and I am closer to be truly myself. However, I do want to continue in this direction and to do that, I think I have to get rid of negative thinking. Is there really no rational explanation to why I should continue seeking more happiness instead of staying there ?
    – Winter
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 16:57
  • @Winter part of human nature is that one is ever completely satisfied : youtube.com/watch?v=nrIPxlFzDi0 My advice, for what it is worth, would be to try to stop thinking about happiness =) as soon as one questions if one is happy, any happiness one has becomes suspect
    – hellyale
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 17:22

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