Aristotle said that the goal of every human being is (or should be) happiness. The ancient Greeks had their own definitions of what happiness was, and nearly every important philosopher since that time has tried to give a definition of it.
But why should philosophers have all of the fun (be the only ones to enjoy an activity)? Here are some other ideas about happiness from some famous Americans. See if you agree with their ideas of what it means to be happy. If you don’t, you can put your own definition in the comments.
“Happiness is not being pained in body or troubled in mind.“
Jefferson was our third president, and author of the Declaration of Independence. To be pained means to have some injury, to physically feel pain. To be troubled means to be worried or have some problems. In mind here means mentally or psychologically or emotionally.
So Jefferson’s definition is basically negative: Being happy means not being physically in pain or psychologically troubled.
“Nothing can bring you to happiness but yourself.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson was one of America’s great 19th century poets and writers (and absolutely no relation to (not connected to as a family member) the English rock group from the 1970s, Emerson, Lake, & Palmer). Emerson’s quote focuses on who can bring you to (give you or help you to reach) happiness. The answer, Emerson says, is you and you alone.
“Happiness is not a goal; it’s a by-product.”
Roosevelt was the wife of the great Franklin D. Roosevelt, president of the United States during the 1930s and early 1940s. She seems to disagree with Aristotle, saying that our goal in life is not happiness itself. Instead, she says happiness is a by-product.
A by-product is something that is produced or made in addition to something that is your main goal or objective. For example, when you boil water in your kitchen to cook some eggs, a by-product is steam (water vapor). Your main goal was to boil water, not to make steam, but steam is in this case a by-product. It gets made in the process of boiling the water.
Roosevelt says that by trying to get something else (she does not tell us what), we may also get happiness, but we should not try to seek (look for) happiness itself.
“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
Burns was one of the most famous comedians and actors in the 20th century, who lived to the age of 100 (he died in 1996). To be caring means to take care of or help someone. A close-knit family is a family where everyone supports each other, where family members are loyal to each other and feel a close connection with each other.
Burns’ funny definition of happiness says that having a wonderful family will make you happy if they live in another city, far away from you.
Do you agree with these statements on happiness? What is your definition of being happy?
Photo credit: Smiley, Wikipedia PD