On it was discovered liquid water, and is the ever-so-rich colour of my sweater.
On a quiet Saturday afternoon, drained by typical shift, a co-worker friend and I axed an entire conversation on Happiness. However, our views on the definition itself differed. So what initially started as a experience-sharing talk suddenly took off to a heated debate – which got me thinking.
Usually, there are two ways to perceive happiness: by adopting a philosophical point of view, where the debate is still open but there exists a general definition that is agreed upon, or a more human and everyday perspective, where ‘happiness’ is experienced through individual exhilarating moments. My friend taking the latter and I the former, his point of view was much more easy to support with day-to-day examples.
I did take this philosophy class in Cegep with an extremely demanding, limit psycho professor, but who was somewhat entertaining. We spent half of an entire semester discussing the different perceptions of Happiness. Not to get too technical, but here are the main definitions among philosophers. Take the time to read them, it really gets you thinking on your own position:
Aristotle: “If it is true that happiness is the activity according to virtue, it is obvious that this is one that conforms to the most perfect virtue, that is to say that the part of man’s highest. The activity of this part of ourselves, an activity consistent with its own virtue which is perfect happiness “(Nicomachean Ethics)
Leibniz: “Our happiness does not consist in a full enjoyment, where there would be nothing to be desired, but in a perpetual progress to new pleasures and new perfections” (From Monadology)
Kant: “Happiness is the satisfaction of all our inclinations” (Critique of Practical Reason)
Kant: “The power, wealth, consideration, even health and the wellbeing and contentment of his condition, is what we call happiness” (Metaphysics of Morals)
Hegel: “Happiness is not a singular pleasure, but a sustainable state, on the one hand an emotional pleasure, on the other hand also the circumstances and means by which, at will, cause of pleasure” (Phenomenology of mind)
Schopenhauer: “The positive and perfect happiness is impossible, you just have to expect a comparatively less painful condition” (The World as Will and as Representation)
Nietzsche: “What is happiness?” The feeling that power increases, that resistance is being overcome “(The Antichrist)
As you can see, the definitions vary from one philosopher to another, but the core has its similarity: it is a continuous state of being that is attained. This is very different from pleasure or even joy. This is the position that I stand for. It may be hard to differentiate the two at first glance, but the difference is concrete. One is ephemeral, the other is consistent.
It is indeed much harder to strive for the state of being or even conceptualize it. Plato compares it as an idea in the world of Ideas, distinct from our tangible world of imperfection, therefore in practice impossible to attain. However, one thing we can all agree on is that we humans want to lead a life that is as little painful as possible, that we all want to lead the most pleasant life. To do so, especially according to Aristotle, a continuously virtuosity that enriches the human life should be practiced, in contrast to instant gratification of epicurean nature. Virtue – here referring to accomplishments as simple as good friendships, the gain of knowledge, feel-good community service and physical health through exercise.
What philosophy class didn’t teach me is that levels of happiness can vary from country to country. But first of all, did they actually take the time to define happiness? Do all citizens of the world perceive it at the same level? Could this ‘happiness’ otherwise refer as satisfaction?
One thing for sure, according to this map, developed countries seem to be happier. This clearly results from its citizens’ basic needs being covered and stability. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia also seems to be part of the relatively happier countries. On the other hand, China, leader of the world’s economy is in an ambiguous state. This is probably due to the inequalities of the wealth, but especially the lack of freedom of speech that restrains self-expression. The lack of a strong moral/ethical background may also result in more directionless souls. However, if you compare China with Russia, the difference is even more prominent. This westernized country is as sad as most parts of Africa. Perhaps a tragic history also contributed.
Then, something fascinating that I learned with a little reading is that apparently, 50% of your happiness is determined by your genetic predisposition. After that, 10% is determined by circumstances, and the last 40% by your own will. This means that most of your happiness is out of your control and that it is actually pre-programmed. Huge finding. Already possessing key qualities that facilitate the pursuit such as being sociable, active, stable, hardworking and conscientious, can determine your fate, and so the last 40% is about maximizing the virtues preached so long ago by Aristotle, still so relevant today. After all, he was also a biologist and a physicist.
So whether you choose an accumulation of pleasure as a way to go, or a long, sinuous road towards an ideal is incredibly subjective, yet ultimately pushes towards the same common goal.
Terre-de-Mars: as foreign as absolute happiness.
Pictures by Marissa
Top and skirt: Zara, Studded sandals: Ralph Lauren