March 31, 2015
Everyone wants sustainable happiness in their lives, but is sustainable happiness really obtainable? Happiness is defined as a state of well-being, contentment, and joy. “Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things lead.” (Aristotle1). Aristotle’s theory on happiness indicates that one must live a virtuous, wholesome life aiming for good, as well as living in the mean. He referred to this as the “golden rule”. Aristotle argues that the best good that anyone could obtain is happiness. All our actions start off with the intention of doing some good that leads us to happiness and that a life worth living is one of excellence and with virtue. We are all born with some good and happiness, and although we may not understand what it means at the time, we learn though our experiences to find the true meanings. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues in order to achieve sustainable happiness one must live in the mean, between two extremes of excess and deficiency; between two vices. Aristotle’s theory is valid for one who has contentment and a well-balanced life will obtain sustainable happiness.
First, what is sustainable happiness? Sustainable happiness is being content according to Aristotle. Webster defines contentment as a state of contented, stratification and an ease of mind. Happiness is really about being content with where you are at that very moment while you are still moving to where you want to be. We’re always moving to do some good constantly. We are always dreaming, and wanting to become better individuals, wanting a better job, wanting more for our lives, as well as for our loved ones. Aristotle’s theory is all about what a person does and not about what a person wants or thinks, it’s the actions that bring contentment to one’s life. This leads us to the fact that Aristotle argues that living in the mean is living a sustainable happy life. One may ask the question, “What does Aristotle mean by living in the mean?”
To answer the question previously stated we must understand Aristotle’s definition of the mean. The mean is defined as: that which is between excess and deficiency. (Aristotle2). Aristotle elaborates by explaining “…nature of such things to be destroyed by defect and excess, as we see in the case of strength and of health; both excessive and defective exercise destroys the strength, and similarly drink or food which is above or below a certain amount destroys health..” (Aristotle2) To further explain the mean, you must understand that the mean is different for every person. No two people are alike, and what is excessive for one person may be the mean for another. Hence, the mean is relative to us as individuals and not a community as a whole. Aristotle suggests that we are all born with different strengths and weakness and as we develop they play a part in which defines our own excess and deficiency, or in other words our boundaries. Taking for example one’s fear of heights and another’s love for adventure, one would be courageous and jump out of an airplane, which would be their mean. As for the person scared of height, it would be too extreme for them to also jump out of an airplane. Living in the mean goes hand in hand with being virtuous.
Therefore being virtuous is living in the mean. Aristotle recognizes virtue as a key element in living a happy life. To understand how important virtue is to living in the mean we examine his quote “...men seem to pursue honour in order that they may be assured of their goodness; at least it is by men of practical wisdom that they seek to be honoured, …and on the ground of their virtue; … according to them, at any rate, virtue is better.” (Aristotle2) Aristotle refers to virtue as virtue ethics. This is the development of a person’s…