It’s the ultimate quest, the discovery of how to be truly happy throughout our lives in spite of a world full of so much pain and negativity. The concept of ‘happiness’ however is a difficult one to nail down.
What makes one happy, may not be the same for the next and this makes defining the state of happiness difficult for psychologist and other professionals. Rather than pinpointing specifics, many have come to use broader terms like the definition included in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, describing happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment.”
Meanwhile, those who focus their careers specifically on the study of happiness have developed more extensive and complicated explanations, seeking to identify those specific areas of our lives that define a positive or pleasant life. This may be as basic as the necessities of life – food, shelter, and companionship, or far more detailed. They classify these requirements into 3 different dimensions: the pleasant life (basic human needs), the good life and the meaningful life.
Regardless of how you choose to define happiness, we, as a society, are obsessed with the search. This quest, however, is far from new. Looking back to the ancient Greeks and well-known philosopher Aristotle, even he had his own theory on the search for happiness and how to obtain it. He believed in the concept of Nicomachean Ethics, a theory based on the idea that we, as humans, should seek to ‘live well,’ and so we can measure our happiness by tracking a specific list of virtues. While we can still ‘live well’ and find happiness if we break the rules occasionally, the measure of whether or not we are on the right path is dependent on our dedication to practicing these 11 virtues.
In order to truly understand the values, we must first understand that Aristotle saw each of these as a spectrum, with the path to happiness existing right in the middle. He believed that too much or too little of any virtue was a bad thing. For example, in looking at courage, too little lead to cowardice while too much was the point of recklessness. Therefore, for someone to effectively practice courage, they would need to find the balance between the two.
Aristotle’s 11 virtues required for happiness include:
#1 – Liberality/Charity
To seek happiness, one must be willing to give to those in need without condition, however, they must also be careful not to give more than they can afford. This includes every aspect of giving, such as both time and money.
#2 – Truthfulness
Aristotle believed there should be a balance on the spectrum of truthfulness and honesty. One should seek to tell the truth and avoid lying, however, there are times in life in which tact calls for one not to be TOO honest with what they are thinking.
#3 – Temperance
Remembering that his virtues were created during his day and age, based on the upper class at the time, temperance was definitely worth consideration. Happiness was said to exist at the point where someone will indulge in drinking, however, they don’t overindulge understanding that fine line.
#4 – Friendliness
While he recognized that friendship is necessary for happiness in our lives, he believed that there is a point where one is too friendly towards too many people and it can take away from the value of this area in our lives.
#5 – Wittiness
Aristotle recognized the importance of humor for true happiness, defining the virtue of wittiness as the balance between complete buffoonery and ridiculousness, and lacking a sense of humor entirely, remaining too serious at all times in life.
#6 – Courage
As previously discussed, too little courage would leave one battling with cowardice, while too much courage leads to recklessness. Effectively practicing courage would mean finding the balance in which one is able to face danger, however, still understands that it exists and can understand the risks and when they are worth taking.
#7 – Magnanimity/Pride
This is a fine line that many struggle with, but to find happiness one must be able to find the balance between believing in themselves and their abilities, while not possessing delusions of grandeur. Strive to challenge yourself and be the best version of yourself you can be without overpromising your abilities.
#8 – Justice
This virtue focuses on who you are focused on in life and will fluctuate based on what is happening at the time. The spectrum exists between selfishness and selflessness; however, it is understood that there are times in life where one may need to focus slightly to one side or the other of this spectrum a little more.
#9 – Patience/Temper
One must understand that there will be a time to get upset with a situation and allow themselves to feel those powerful feelings, but at the same time learn to control their temper and avoid becoming too easily angered.
#10 – Magnificence
To be happy one should allow themselves to enjoy some extravagance in their life, however, they must also be aware of the line between enjoying their ‘riches’ and becoming flashy or overextravagant.
#11 – Shame
One should be able to acknowledge when they have done something wrong or made a mistake, therefore not being shameless in life. However, at the same time, to find happiness you can’t be afraid of taking a risk, aware that it may not work out.
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