What Is Happiness?

The notion of happiness is so indefinite that although every man wishes to attain it yet he never can say definitely and consistently what it is that he really wishes and wills.

- Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss whether 'happiness' means living a life of pleasure, or of virtue. It is an old question, and the Roman poet Horace attempted to answer it when he wrote; 'Not the owner of many possessions will you be right to call happy: he more rightly deserves the name of happy who knows how to use the gods's gifts wisely and to put up with rough poverty, and who fears dishonour more than death'. It seems a noble sentiment but for the Greek Sophist Thrasymachus this sort of attitude was the epitome of moral weakness: For him poverty was miserable, and happiness flowed from wealth and power over men, an idea so persuasive that Plato wrote The Republic in response to its challenge. What have our philosophers made of the compulsion to be happy? And how much does this ancient debate still define what it means to be happy today? Are we entitled to health, wealth and the pursuit of pleasure or is true contentment something else entirely?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Happiness

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Over the past two decades, the positive psychology movement has brightened up psychological research with its science of happiness, human potential and flourishing. It argues that psychologists should not only investigate mental illness but also what makes life worth living.

The founding father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, describes happiness as experiencing frequent positive emotions, such as joy, excitement and contentment, combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose. It implies a positive mindset in the present and an optimistic outlook for the future. Importantly, happiness experts have argued that happiness is not a stable, unchangeable trait but something flexible that we can work on and ultimately strive towards...

Continue reading Lowri Dowthwaite's article: True happiness isn't about being happy all the time

Further Reading

What is happiness? This question has no straightforward answer, because the meaning of the question itself is unclear. What exactly is being asked? Perhaps you want to know what the word ‘happiness’ means. In that case your inquiry is linguistic. Chances are you had something more interesting in mind: perhaps you want to know about the thing, happiness, itself. Is it pleasure, a life of prosperity, something else? Yet we can't answer that question until we have some notion of what we mean by the word.

Philosophers who write about “happiness” typically take their subject matter to be either of two things, each corresponding to a different sense of the term:

  1. A state of mind
  2. A life that goes well for the person leading it...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Happiness by Daniel Haybron

Bonus Webcomic

A Dialogue on Happiness - Existential Comics

Related Topics

If you’re interested in happiness, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

Emotion | The Good Life | Hedonism | Human Nature | Psychology

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