The Philosophy of Happiness: Exploring Paths to the Good Life

Sharing is caring!

Happiness, a state of well-being and contentment, has been a central pursuit of humanity for millennia. Philosophers from different traditions, geographical location and eras have delved into the nature of happiness, its sources, and how individuals can lead the “good life.” Here, we aim to explore the philosophy of happiness, its historical roots, diverse perspectives, and contemporary discussions on the pursuit of a fulfilling life. To some, happiness is easily acquired. To others, they might require fifty affirmations to overcome anxiety before they can proceed to happiness. There is much to discuss, so let’s dive right in and begin our pursuit of happiness. 

The Historical Roots of Happiness Philosophy

Person walking on stones
via GoDaddy

The philosophical quest for happiness finds its roots in ancient times. Philosophers like Aristotle and Confucius, among others, emphasized the importance of virtue and moral character as essential components of happiness. Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia, often translated as “flourishing” or “living well,” suggested that a meaningful and virtuous life leads to true happiness. Essentially: if we aim to live meaningfully (that being with a purpose) whilst also keeping hold of strong moral values (exhibiting what’s right and not wrong), we will eventually arrive at the stage of true happiness. In order to achieve true happiness, one must also live happily. We are not necessarily required to live a life of stoicism, but we must be expected to – more often than not – refuse to allow our natural calmness to be disrupted and, what’s more paramount, we must not succumb to the societal norm of immorality. 

Hedonism: Pleasure as the Source of Happiness

Two hands in a heart shape
via GoDaddy

Another prominent philosophy of happiness is hedonism, which asserts that pleasure and the absence of pain are the ultimate goals of life. Epicurus, a Greek philosopher, argued that tranquility and pleasure are the keys to happiness. Utilitarianism, developed by philosophers like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, takes a similar approach, emphasizing the maximization of happiness for the greatest number of people. If you are of the Abrahamic traditions, and are devout, you might fear a life of hedonism leads to any of greed, sloth and gluttony – three of the “Seven Deadly Sins”. However, it need not be. Using myself as an example, I find it important to seek pleasures in the natural world – watching sunsets during a stroll by the river, or a movie night with my beloved. Simple, harmless activities where there is no danger of overindulgence leading to anything more than a little bit of happiness.

Existentialism: Creating Meaning in a World without Inherent Purpose

Woman sat by lake
via GoDaddy

Existentialist thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus introduced the idea that life lacks inherent meaning, and individuals must create their own purpose and happiness. Existentialism calls for embracing freedom and responsibility in shaping one’s existence. In short: the age-old question on the “meaning of life”? To existentialists like Sartre, there is no meaning – life is what we make of it, so let’s do our best to make it a good one. In many ways, life where there is no predetermined meaning is freeing. It means we are not confined to any sense of predestiny, but are instead free to make the lives we wish to live (but only with the tools provided to us). There’s no inherent purpose? Then allow us to make a purpose, essentially. If there’s no otherworldly rule on whether I am allowed to be happy, or to partake in hedonism, then naturally, one is going to live a self-fulfilling hedonistic life. You can begin with our free self-care practice for mental health worksheet.

Positive Psychology: A Modern Scientific Perspective

A mountain illuminated by the sun
via GoDaddy

In recent decades, positive psychology has emerged as a scientific field dedicated to the study of human well-being and happiness. Researchers like Martin Seligman focus on character strengths, positive emotions, and the factors that contribute to life satisfaction. Positive psychology aims to provide practical insights for enhancing happiness. Certainly, with the increasing awareness of the importance of mental health, it is only natural that positive psychology would become increasingly paramount. Positivity, in itself, is something worth treasuring. Positive-minded people are more likely to live longer and less likely to suffer with heart conditions, strokes and so forth. A positive mind is a healthy mind and it culminates in a likely healthier body, too.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Balloons in sky
via GoDaddy

Contemporary discussions on the philosophy of happiness include various perspectives and approaches. Some philosophers argue that pursuing happiness directly can be counterproductive, as it may lead to dissatisfaction or a superficial understanding of well-being. Instead, they suggest that happiness often emerges as a byproduct of living a life aligned with one’s values and purpose. Essentially, happiness is subjective – what makes one happy might not make another happy, so we should prioritize what makes us happy and try to do things which leads to our own happiness. For some, this might be playing video games. For others, this might be hiking. It’s the old expression “you do you”. Not sure, if you are having positive or negative thoughts? Here’s 25 examples of some negatives to lead you away from negativity.

Cultural and Personal Variations

Chinese lanterns floating
via GoDaddy

The philosophy of happiness is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Cultural and individual variations exist, influencing what people perceive as happiness and how they pursue it. The importance of family, community, relationships, and personal achievements can all play significant roles in shaping one’s understanding of the good life. There can be cultural differences with regards to happiness. For example, the eastern world is far more together than the west and Asians might be more sociable with wider society as a result. In the west, people have more lonesome tendencies and can often find joy in solo activities, or with smaller groups of people. Some cultures will be more religious and enjoy religious activities, other cultures might be more humanist and find solace elsewhere. There are differences with happiness. There is also the potential to try other cultural aspects, like an Indian vegetarian diet, for example, for yourself and see whether it is more suited to you.

The Quest for a Balanced Life

Natural scenery including lake
via GoDaddy

Balancing various aspects of life, including physical and mental health, relationships, personal growth, and a sense of purpose, is a common theme in contemporary happiness philosophy. Many believe that a harmonious life involves acknowledging and integrating both positive and challenging experiences. Some might even find joy in the challenging aspects of life – with thrill-seekers standing alone as a group of people uniquely different in their view of what’s fun and what’s not. Snowboarding, mountain-biking or climbing, surfing and so on would most likely be more appealing to this group than reading a newspaper, watching television or drinking tea with friends. However, there is a balance and that is merely one extreme. Integrating positive and challenging experiences would, in reality, appear far more mundane than the thrill-seeking culture explored but would bring a lifetime of comfortable satisfaction.

The philosophy of happiness is a dynamic and evolving field, reflecting changing cultural, social, and individual values. While philosophers continue to explore what it means to live a good life, the pursuit of happiness remains a fundamental and universal aspiration.

In your quest for happiness, it’s important to explore different philosophical perspectives, consider your values and personal goals, and engage in a thoughtful reflection on what brings joy and fulfillment to your life. Ultimately, the philosophy of happiness encourages individuals to lead a life that aligns with their values and purpose, fostering a sense of contentment and well-being.

Sharing is caring!