Will We Ever All Agree as to Meaning of the Word ‘Happy’?

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Definitions of the terms, ‘happy’ (verb) or ‘happiness’ (noun) are as numerous and varied as numbers of articles discussing said equivalent concepts.

You read some articles and happiness is an emotional high. Yet in some other articles, happiness is a state of mind. Enter a third class of articles within which happiness derives from pursuit of purpose, from adoption of some objective. In a fourth class of articles — best viewed in context of the Aristotelian school of thoughthappiness derives from discovery of the right way to live. There may be more schools of thought than these, suffice it to say that as outlined in enumerated four characterizations, meanings of the terms ‘happy’ or ‘happiness’ do not coincide.

happiness is an emotional high, fluctuations in happiness are normal. Absent descent into depression, fluctuations in happiness do not raise any cause for concern or alarm.

Happiness is as erratic as changes in circumstances.

If happiness is a state of mind, happiness can regardless of circumstances be habitual. By the same token, regardless of circumstances, and particularly in presence of good circumstances, absence of happiness can be habitual. When it comes to ‘state of mind’ happiness, happiness, or the lack thereof devolves into the difference between a ‘cup half full’ vis-a-vis ‘cup half empty’ mentality.

Clearly, ‘emotional’ happiness is not tantamount to ‘state of mind’ happiness.

ow then happiness derived in context of pursuit of purpose. Clearly, and in context of civil society, purpose must be assumed to possess nobility of character, implying it is not harmful for society. Given achievement of purpose by any one person typically requires cooperation of others, a person can pursue purpose yet not achieve said purpose. In presence of multiplicity of good objectives in society, some good purposes go unachieved (think for instance pro life vis-a-vis pro choice; every time one group wins, the other loses). In presence of stated caveat, a person’s happiness is a function of the extent to which they are able to get others to tag along in pursuit of their objectives. But if everyone came up with an objective, we would have chaos because all desire to be leaders, none followers.

Happiness of objectives devolves into chaos of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’.

Even when happiness is possible, happiness of one is conditional on happiness or cooperation of others (others’ willingness to follow), clearly not a desirable equilibrium.

It is clear from the foregoing that either of ‘emotional' happiness or ‘state of mind’ happiness, both of which differ from each other, differ equally from ‘pursuit of purpose’ happiness.

arrive then at the Aristotelian characterization of happiness. In context of the Aristotelian characterization, a person is happy whenever society is organized in a fashion that is supportive of his or her pursuit of self actualization. Within the Aristotelian context, a person determines two things: what it means to live right, and the extent to which the desire to live right is supported by rules and laws of society.

Clearly, a person who desires to self actualize via stealing of others’ property finds happiness difficult to achieve. By the same token, a person who desires to be a Scientist finds the path to happiness relatively easier. In context of the Aristotelian definition, a person’s happiness derives from the extent to which societal laws, rules, and norms facilitate that person’s self actualized notion of what it means to live right. Note that in context of the Aristotelian definition, it is not the objective — Scientist or Thief — that is of importance, rather it is activities engaged in by Scientists or Thieves that are the source of happiness.

Within the Aristotelian context, if Science was renamed Thievery and Thievery Science, desire for scientific activity would transform into desire for Thievery.

So does the Aristotelian characterization of happiness differ from ‘pursuit of purpose’ happiness? Absolutely. Within context of Aristotelian characterization, life can be devoid of grand purposes. Happiness is found in the everyday activities of life, everyday activities that conform with a person’s notion of what exactly it is constitutes right living in society.

Clearly, the Aristotelian characterization of happiness differs from all other three characterizations already discussed.

hat then to do? I guess you pick the characterizations that suits you best, view every post or article on happiness from within the lens of your adopted characterization.

Perhaps you take a little from each — a little from here, a dab from there. Perhaps you lend within one rubric, borrow within the other. Perhaps you find one specific rubric which works for you in entirety, discard all others. One thing is sure, if you do not arrive at your own characterization or understanding of happiness, you are bound to experience ‘happiness’ confusion.

Written by

Educator and Researcher, Believer in Spirituality, Life is serious business, but we all are pilgrims so I write about important stuff with empathy and ethos

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