Philosophy of Happiness Essay Example

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Philosophy of Happiness

Philosophy of Happiness

The term happiness may appear as a straightforward phrase having a simple definition. However, in the real sense, it is a complex term that has a wide explanation. Happiness can be defined as a life that is termed as good for an individual experiencing it and is not just a mere life filled with happy feelings or fulfilling life (Feldman, 2010). It is a state a person is in when he or she experiences contentment, satisfaction to name a few. However, being happy entails more than just happy feelings. Yet, happiness does not necessarily need a life with a higher degree of wellbeing (Feldman, 2010). There is a complex interplay between happiness and a good life. Happiness does not just entail our own experiences, but it is dependent on how we effectively interpret such experiences. Happiness is an evaluative and hermeneutic concept. Pleasure accompanies happiness, but does not determine a good life (Haybron, 2001). For instance, the presence of pain and suffering does not necessarily indicate that someone is doing something bad. Generally, a happy life contradicts to a good life. Living a happy life is connected to being a ‘taker’ while living a good life entails being a ‘giver’. Recognizing the good is what enables a person to be happy. Material, power and wealth is not necessarily what constitutes a good life. This paper will explore a fresh perspective on a question about happiness. It will answer the question, “Is happiness necessary for having a prudentially good life?” and will open up new avenues of research concerning happiness. It will also critically analyse and define the concept of good life as well as happiness.

Happiness is valued in today’s society since it aims at pursuing it. As defined earlier, happiness can be viewed as the feeling of joy, contentment and well-being coupled with the sense that one’s life is meaningful and worthwhile. What constitutes good life? To many people, it is a financially stable life and happiness is founded upon possession of wealth (Haybron, 2001). It is not right to say that worldly success is what dictates if a person is having a good life. Anyone who is considered not ‘successful’ is termed as a ‘failure’. On the other hand, other people strive for a life that is full of honour and recognition. Generally, a good life is composed of socializing with the right group of people in the right situation whereas happiness is based on gaining respect. In this line, there are lives that portrays a desire for glory and recognition that instigates great efforts (Arneson, 1999). On the other hand, other lives that are not drawn to wealth or power due to difficulty in achieving them may choose to go after pleasure (Haybron, 2001). A good and happy life can be considered one that pleasures tend to overweigh overall pain. Many people wish their friends and families to ‘do well’ or ‘fair well’ in life. Doing well encompass ourselves and our own actions and feelings. Everyone has a control over this aspect of one’s life. When we wish a person to ‘do well’, it is an expression that hopes that a person will be fair and moral in his endeavour (McMahon, 2004). Apart from securing physical survival, an individual who does well sleeps with a clear conscious even if he or she is not blessed with material success. This is because, a good life go hand-in-hand with good deeds and happiness can be internally controlled.

From a philosophical point of view, a good life has a moral core that entails compassion for others while acting justly when dealing with others (McMahon, 2004). ‘Faring well’ on the other hand entail events and situations we don’t have control over. It means succeeding in life with all the benefits and privileges of money and social recognition. Someone who is faring well has a bit of good luck. Someone can do everything right but end up not succeeding. According to McMahon (2004), happiness entails doing well and also being just. To some extent, luck plays a major role into our happiness. Most of our happiness is decided by us but can be influenced by external forces (Kekes, 1982). Therefore, while being happy results from ‘doing well’, great misfortunes and bad luck may damage our happiness. In the context, it may be that a person, by doing well will achieve dignity in suffering, but will never be happy. It is wrong to relate being happy as necessary for prudentially good life. This is because; a good life is necessary and fundamental but not enough condition for happiness. It is likely that a person can live a good life and not be happy, but not happy without having a good life (Haybron, 2001).

Most people view the aspect of happiness as feeling good, having no worries and having a good life. Some philosophers such as Derek Parfait doubt and disapprove the idea that happiness is the sole measure of ones success in life (Parfait, 1984). A number of researches have been carried out to illustrate the difference between having a happy life and having a meaningful life. Researchers have found out that happy life differ and overlap with meaningful life (Davis, 1981). This overlap comes about due to the way happy life and meaningful life are categorized. According to Arneson (1999) and McMahon (2004), happiness that comes without any meaning describes a shallow and selfish life in which needs and desires come easily without any entanglements. Therefore, happy people acquire joy from receiving good things from other people whereas meaningful life receives their joy from sharing what they have with others. According to researchers, happiness is an affection that is temporary and which fades away with time and is considered an action of transcending the self by feeding it with needs which most at times are temporary. Therefore, this clearly illustrates that in order for one to have a prudentially good life, he or she not only needs happiness but also meaning (McMahon, 2004). Happiness that comes without meaning in a person’s life is said to be temporary and might not necessarily result to a good life.

Many philosophers have a notion about happiness and good life that does not apply for everybody (Haybron, 2001). Moreover, though many philosophers pursue theoretical life to be the happiest and the best, it is wrong for them to legislate this for everyone. As witnessed in our world today, those who strive for wealth and fame without moral core are faced with many disasters. It is right to say that the pursuit of wisdom recognising the good life, happiness can be attained. We often pursue happiness as if it is something attainable and a must to achieve. In many cultures, people are pushed towards happiness from various books, happiness coaches among others. However, focussing on happiness does not necessarily mean a satisfied happy life. According to a Parfait (1984), pursuing happiness does not lead to a good life. Studies have shown that the more people emphasize on happiness the less happy they become. Happiness and meaning affects our biological state. Our bodies protect us from possible diseases. Our emotional states highly influence the extent to which our body fight bacterial and viral infections. The problem is not being happy. It is being overwhelmed by happiness without meaning (Feldman, 2010). This is when we risk reducing the ability of the immune system to fight diseases and illnesses. Therefore, the optimum state from us to have a good life is to balance meaning and happiness. Without enough meaning, we can fall ill while without enough happiness we can become unhappy. Therefore, even though happiness contributes partially to us having a good life, without meaning, our lives cannot fully portray the aspect of a satisfied life (McMahon, 2004).

Parfait (1984) believes that happiness is a feeling that cannot be pursued but ensued and therefore an individual ought to have a reason to be happy. Happiness is different between every person. Philosophers view and describe happiness as a goal within a human’s life. Some people view a happy life as one that comes with fulfilments of a number of conditions which includes; physical and mental well-being. This is contradictory since in our present world, we have individuals who are very happy despite their physical or mental incapability. These incapability pose as a very huge challenge in their lives which distorts their “good life”. Therefore, this statement shows that a prudentially good life does not necessarily come hand in hand with happiness for anyone can become happy despite of the situation they are in (Parfait, 1984). For example, people who are sick with terminal illnesses or those who are struck with poverty most at times have a rough time which indicates a less prudential good life yet they seem happier than most. This statement argues that happiness is not necessary in having a prudentially good life (McMahon, 2004).

Additionally, other philosophers argue that happiness is the sole purpose for the existence of human beings (Kraut, 1979). They also argue that there is always a goal with which most people direct their activities. Some people search for wealth whereas others seek pleasure as well as a good reputation. All these activities are aimed at happiness. People around the world chase dreams which lead them to a good life. Ultimately, their goals and objectives of having a good life is attaining happiness. Most people agree that happiness is the end of which all their needs are met (Parfait, 1984). Therefore, a prudentially good life is not regarded as important as happiness itself. It appears that all other goods in one’s life are a medium towards happiness whereas happiness is a conclusion in itself. Consequently, it is also right to say that happiness is in itself a goal within many people’s lives and they do not need it in order to have a prudentially good life (Parfait, 1984).

Moreover, from a vantage point of some philosophers, living well of a good life doesn’t necessarily means that it involves having everything one wants. Possessing a good life involves out on interests. Some view having a good life as living a moral one and that it makes ones’ life good (Parfait, 1984). Most people cannot distinguish the fundamentals of a good life and most at times don’t even know the significance of living a good life and happiness. Many research studies have been conducted with regard to happiness as the chief task for philosophy and good life as recovered from modern-day ethic. Some philosophers have argued that being satisfied with ones’ life shows contentment and is a sign of a happy person. On the other hand, they also argue that a good life can be characterized by the same contentment though they do not attach any value to it with regards to a good life. Being contented shows signs of satisfaction which is viewed as a negative sense since it only needs the lack of dissatisfaction (Parfait, 1984). In addition, being contented also relates to accepting something as it is. This contentment goes hand in hand with happiness since a person can only feel satisfied if he or she is contented with what they have in hand. This strongly contradicts with the aspect of a good life (Arneson, 1999).

When one is said to have a good life, it either means that the person has an intrinsically good life or the person enjoys a high degree of private welfare. Most philosophers separate the value of contentment to a good life (Arneson, 1999). Undoubtedly, a number of people end up not achieving their potential abilities because at one time they became contented with what they had. In addition, some philosophers also argue that being contented with what you have is not well-matched with having the desire of improving ones’ life. Therefore, once an individual is contented with something or a situation in his or her life, they end up being happy with it (Arneson, 1999). Therefore, it greatly contradicts with living a prudentially good life since for one to have lived a good life, aspects such as contentment isn’t in their vocabulary. Consequently, happiness is not necessary in order for one to live a prudentially good life

In conclusion, this essay has analysed and evaluated the concepts of happiness and good life. It has critically evaluated that happiness is not necessarily bad for us, but happiness alone is not sufficient to result to a good life. Sadly, many people nowadays chase after happiness forgetting that this doesn’t satisfy them. There exist a big difference between happiness and meaning and happiness without meaning does not lead to a good life. In addition, happiness is not the sole measure for a good life since it is viewed as a temporary state which transcends the self by feeding a person’s needs that satisfies their own selfish gains which in turn rule it out as an important aspect of a prudentially good life. Also, a good life doesn’t often come with happiness since some people appear to have a good life yet they live very unhappy lives. This shows that a good life does not really incorporate happiness (McMahon, 2004). Finally, happiness is considered the ultimate goal for human existence. This shows that people do every activity with an ultimate objective of achieving happiness in their lives even if it involves having a prudentially good life in order to achieve happiness. Therefore, happiness is considered an independent entity that most people chase in expense of a good life.


Arneson, J. R. (1999). ‘Human Flourishing versus Desire Satisfaction’. Social Philosophy and Policy, 16, p. 113-142.

Davis, W. (1981). ‘A Theory of Happiness’.
American Philosophical Quarterly, 18(2), p. 111-120.

Feldman, F. (2010). ‘Appendix C: The Meaning(s) of ‘Happy’. From What Is This Thing Called Happiness?. Oxford University Press, p. 126-137.

Haybron, D. M. (2001). ‘Happiness and Pleasure’. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 62(3), p. 501-528.

Kekes, J. (1982). Happiness’. Mind, 91(363), p. 358-376.

Kraut, R. (1979). ‘Two Conceptions of Happiness’. The Philosophical Review, 88(2), p. 167-197.

McMahon, M. Darrin, (2004). ‘From the happiness of virtue to the virtue of happiness: 400 B.C.–A.D 1780’. Dædalus, 133(2), p. 5-17.

Parfait, D. (1984). What Makes Someone’s Life go Best. From Reasons and Persons: Oxford University Press.