From the psychological viewpoint, the concept of happiness could be considered as a sensual or mental state of a person identified by the display of pleasant and positive emotions. There is a range of approaches to defining the concept of happiness including biological, religious, and philosophical theories. The latter is the most complicated ones because they do not consider happiness in isolation but in relation to several important factors. In the context of Nicomachean Ethics, happiness could not be considered a mental stage, but a rational activity directed at the highest good for humans. Aristotle considers happiness to be a sort of verbal arrangement which requires a human to perform certain functions and activities which can allow for the achievement of happiness. There are several aspects within which happiness could be analyzed – intellectual contemplation, sensual enjoyment, political achievement, and pursuit of wealth. However, all of them imply certain activities which help humans achieve well-being and the highest good.
Aristotle defines happiness as the highest aim of the thought and action of humans. Specifically, the philosopher believed that happiness should be valued similarly to intelligence, courage, and wealth. Furthermore, it should be evaluated in isolation, because it is the key to human flourishing and welfare. In other words, the concept of happiness should be associated with the human’s highest good. Similar to other notions such as virtue and excellence, happiness should be presented as the primary activity which should make people active.
When it comes to virtues and morale and their place in the pursuit of happiness, the attention should be given to the parts played by those notions. The traditional virtues of courage, temperance, and justice have soon entered the discussion, although – as we saw – the notion of a morally good person was not already implicit in the definition of happiness. Therefore, in order to exercise rationality, one should adhere to conventional moral virtues. Apparently, Aristotle believes that virtues are morally justified as living a life implies leading the best life which is relevant for a human being. Human virtues, therefore, are valuable for the results that contribute to the human’s welfare as well as to society. In order to achieve moral virtues, habituation but not teaching is the key. Constant practicing could provide a reason.
In fact, Aristotle’s vision of happiness has logical correlations with the concept of virtue. Specifically, in case happiness is an activity which is carried with virtue, it is also reasonable that the activity itself is carried out with the best virtue. Throughout the Ethics, Aristotle makes certain assumptions regarding the concept of selection and collection. Specifically, the philosopher asserts that happiness is an activity regarding virtue, but it is a single activity. Hence, a single activity could be regarded as complete when a human achieves happiness. In this case, it is a selection approach. However, in the case of happiness is achieved only through a range of activities, then a collection approach should be chosen, because the concept of the collection focuses on the pleasures that complete these activities. In order to understand the essence and nature of happiness, it is essential to define what it means to a human. In fact, happiness should be considered as the ultimate goal of humans. It means that humans live to be happy; therefore, they should do corresponding activities to achieve this purpose. Importantly, Aristotle mentions the concept of function in the context of happing. It implies that human’s major function is to be engaged in the activities that make them happy.
Considering happiness as an activity rather than a state than Aristotle’s thought of happiness as the key to self-realization is justified. In this respect, ethics still deals with psychology, which makes some of Aristotle’s assumptions vague and ambivalent. Specifically, Aristotle believes that happiness is a priori; it does not need any justification and stands with the concept of morale and happiness. However, sometimes, individuals resort to unreasonable and unjustified actions, which make them happy and self-sufficient. This is of particular concern to the individuals who have psychological problems. Getting deeper into psychology and the social background of humans, it is often difficult to believe that all people could become happier and achieve self-determination. However, the highest value is not always associated with happiness. In other words, for some people, stealing a car would be the utmost goal that makes them happier. However, this activity could not be considered reasonable or in accordance with virtue and morale. Therefore, the concept of happiness sometimes differs from what the majority believes it is to be.
In fact, while deliberating on the above-presented criticism, it is necessary to specify that for Aristotle happiness is not just an activity, but a reasonable activity in the pursuit of virtue and morale. The happiness, in this respect, could not be associated with the psychological or mental state, which sometimes does not correspond to the adequate mood and spirit. The activity should be in harmony with the soul and adhere to the concept of self-control. In other words, Aristotle associates happiness not with egoistic intentions, but with the greater good, which could bring in the welfare to the entire humanity. Happiness is an activity of the soul, and if that is how things are, clearly everyone who practices sound governance needs to have some kind of knowledge of the parts of the soul (that is, in order to know about the virtues). Thus, the philosopher prepares a worthy response to the criticism of happiness as an activity and the ultimate goal that corresponds to morale and virtues. Specifically, he believes that the lack of motivation and ignorance of virtuous paths of cognizing happiness is the only reason why some people fail to achieve happiness in a reasonable and morally justified way.
The attention should also be paid to the analysis of such characteristics as morale, virtue, and self-understanding. People are sometimes misled by their concerns and problems. Before they enter the path of happiness, they should delve deeper into psychological problems. Happiness, therefore, could not be a mental state, because the latter is just a state of readiness to carry out righteous activities leading to happiness and self-realization.
The concept of happiness proposed by Aristotle differs significantly from the concepts proposed by the supporter of hedonism. Nonetheless, the difference is predetermined by the presence of such notions as morale and virtue. At this point, Waterman (1993) has compared these concepts to define the extent to which they correlate. The researcher has discovered that personal expressiveness is the key to success in the self-realization process. Instead, hedonic enjoyment does not contribute to this process, because it is aimed at fulfilling all needs and concerns and ignoring problems and obstacles that prevent humans from achieving the highest value. In such a way, Aristotle was right while deliberating on happiness as a common good which is exercised by humans in accordance with the generally accepted virtues and morale.
In order to understand the reason and underpinning for considering happiness as a reasonable activity, it is essential to take into account the contrary opinion. In particular, Spencer (2012) explains that mental condition can prevent humans from using one’s motivation and energy to enter life activities. The concept of happiness, therefore, should not be confined to a mental state only because it incorporates both the mental health and the activity. Nonetheless, mental health should not be underestimated, because it affects humans’ further activities on the path to happiness. Such notions as virtuosity, mindfulness, and autonomy should be followed while discussing the purpose of happiness. The concept of happiness should be viewed through the prism of philosophical concepts that encourage individuals to focus on the challenges that limit their opportunities for self-realization. In the majority of cases, humans are reluctant to continue struggling for well-being because of psychological problems and lack of motivation they receive from life. However, it does not mean that happiness should be associated with the mental state. In fact, the latter is just the tool for achieving the desired outcomes.
It is logical that being fulfilled as a personality is the key to achieving happiness and sense of life. However, the limits of the human mind and thoughts sometimes limit our possibilities and opportunities for enacting our goals. Happiness, therefore, should be represented in the form of goals and targets that people should achieve. It implies that happiness is a reasonable and sophisticated activity, which requires substantial efforts. Success and fulfillment, therefore, are synonyms to happiness according to Aristotle’s vision. This type of happiness is higher than hedonic pleasures. Hence, humans should consider their goals to become happy, and there should be specific activities involved. The conception of happiness should be genuine; it consists in virtue, which is considered the predisposition to act rightfully. A person endowed with courage and virtue will not display confidence in front of fear; rather, he/she would be more concerned with the way to confront the fear. In this respect, acting rightfully and courageously can allow a virtuous and moral person to become happy and have a good life. In contrast, an individual who fails to understand these virtues exhibits false feeling and would not be able to face difficulties in the pursuit of happiness.