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Although it can be seen as a concept that is so fuzzy and welcoming an array of loose meanings, yet, scholars particularly philosophers agree to the description of happiness as a psychological state of wellness which is characterized by positive emotions such as intense joy and contentment. The parting point on the topic on happiness comes when religious, philosophical, psychological and biological attempts are brought about as possible explanations of the concept and essence of happiness.
The importance of happiness is made manifest in the painstaking steps that are being made by many in the pursuit of happiness. At least 20% of the US is said to have succumbed to depression at some point in life. According to the New York Times, so many Americans are taking antidepressants to an extent that the water supplies in the major American cities contain traces of these antidepressants. At the same time, the American Psychological Association maintains that contrary to what many may believe that the problem is unique to adults, 9% of the children in US are bound to have experienced depression by the time they reach 14. Before graduating from high school, 20% of American children will have succumbed to major depressive episode. The full weight of this development is seen by the divulgence by the APA that children who have at one time suffered from depression are also likely to experience depression during adulthood (New York Times, 1).
It is against this backdrop that insights are to be discussed on the same topic, forthwith. Above all, philosophers are the ones who have made immense contributions in the attempt to shed light on the value which is happiness. Whereas other social scientists and even pure and applied scientists cite extraneous factors and the material as necessary part for the realization of happiness, early Christian philosophers such as St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas see the realization of happiness as a complex matter.
According to St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, happiness is not a value which momentarily becomes manifest in the life of an individual, but rather, the main goal of life. Both postulate that man exists to pursue happiness. On the other hand, this happiness is found in the realization of one's goals in life. This is to the effect that the realization of ultimate happiness is realizable in the apprehending of the individual's life purpose. This is to mean that the failure to meet one's goals in life and the encountering of impediments to the realization of these goals are the antithesis of the same happiness.
The extension of this postulation by the two philosophers boils over to politics and governance. In this regard, Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine divulge that the primary function of the government is to ensure the realization of the goals of the body politic, its citizens. The gravity of this standpoint is totally compelling in that the primary essence of the government is to ensure the happiness of the citizens. The place of the efforts being made by the individual towards the realization of personal goals and the actualization of one's potential cannot also be wished away, as far as the standpoint made by St. Augustine in his the City of God is concerned (Dyson, 56).
That the above theoretical positing as advanced by St. Augustine is far reaching is a matter that is clearly elucidated by its reflection in the US Declaration of Independence. Indeed, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness is a phrase enshrined in this constitutional declaration not only as the most well put and influential sentence throughout the history of the English language, but also as aspects of the listed unalienable rights and freedoms that man possesses.
Clearly showing that happiness is very important not only in human life, but also in the entire human civilization, is the standpoint that is held by Utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham. As opposed to Deontologists and Consequentialists, Bentham and other Utilitarians see happiness and number as the sole principles upon which an action may be appraised as being either ethically right or wrong. To Bentham and other Utilitarians who came afterwards, an action remains ethical legit or right as long as it leads to the happiness of the greatest number of people.
There are also positive psychologists such as Martin Seligman and Ed Diener who in the close of the 20th century have made deliberate attempts to place the analysis of human happiness or wellbeing on a scientific pedestal. Seligman and Diener maintain that to a given extent, there can be said to be a competition and a balance between a person's genetically acquired gloomy predisposition and the individual's actions and thoughts (Seligman, 33).
To the effect of the above, Seligman makes a trifurcation of dimensions of happiness. Seligman argues that "the pleasant life" can be realized upon the individual learning to savor and appreciate particular basic pleasures such as the bodily needs, the natural environment and companionship. Either an individual can remain stagnant at this stage or progress to experience the good life which can be grasped through the discovering the unique strengths and virtues.
These virtues and strengths on the other hand may assist the individual employ creativity in enhancing lives. It is at this juncture that the individual is able to enter the final stage which according to Seligman, is "the meaningful life." in this stage, there is a deep sense of fulfillment which can be realized through the mobilization of one's unique strengths for purposes that are far much greater than the person himself.
The strength of the theory above being advanced by Seligman and Diener is that it reconciles the two conflicting standpoints on human happiness: the individualistic approach which is emphatic on individual responsibility and the nature of the individual on one hand; and the altruistic approach which in a way downplays the importance of individuality, while being emphatic on the importance of self sacrifice, on the other hand (Layard, 25).
Nevertheless, on a personal note, it remains highly debatable if indeed, the attainment of happiness is learnable, as Seligman and Diener seem to intimate, in their elaboration of the steps to achieving happiness. This is due to the fact that many will attest to the notion that external factors (life's circumstances) and the natural predisposition of an individual almost automatically integrate to determine the presence of happiness or depression. At the same time, another problem in the above postulation lie in the fact that there are those who are able to perennially remain jovial, in the face of life's varying circumstances, while there are others who remain characteristically melancholic despite the affluence and class from which they hail (Argyle, 75).
Classical philosophers have not only made contributions to the reality of happiness. According to Confucius, happiness was integral with nobility. Nonetheless, Confucius maintained that it was possible for one to become a "Chunzi", a morally noble person without necessarily being born into nobility. Myers (67) explains that To Confucius, being a Chunzi depends on the personality of an individual. The essence of this standpoint is that being a person of moral nobility is the most supreme source of greatest happiness.