Despite the thousands of years that separate Aristotle and Confucius from Martin Seligman and Sonja Lyubormirsky, they all highlight that the key aspect to achieving happiness is helping others. They all state that helping others increases our own happiness levels due to the feeling of helpfulness and knowing that we are using the skills and knowledge we have to aid someone. According to Lyubormirsky’s study, ‘Count Your Blessings’, by recapping your recent experiences of someone helping you or you helping someone doubles your levels of happiness over a period of six weeks. Confucius claims that by following in the idea of ‘Jen’, being concerned for the well-being of others, such as our friends, is a simple and easy way to achieve this feeling of happiness through helping others.
Both Aristotle and the two psychologists agree that friendship is key to happiness, but for slightly different reasons. Aristotle views friendship incredibly highly even about such traits like justice and honor, the most virtuous friendship is where both people wish only the best for each other, regardless of other emotions or circumstances. He believes that this type of friendship is the one that brings you the most joy and satisfaction. However, Aristotle does highlight that to maintain such a rewarding and virtuous friendship requires a lot of time and effort from both parties, and that it is impossible to have a high number of friends. Martin Seligman’s viewpoint of friendship and its importance has the most striking difference to Aristotle’s. Seligman focuses on what makes extremely happy people different to the rest of society, and claims that one of the reasons why is because they are never alone. He expands that extremely happy people are always in a romantic relationship and have a large group of friends. By being exceedingly social it means they can assist many individuals, meaning you get a bigger boost of happiness. Seligman research of this highlight the vast difference between Aristotle’s time and ours today, that with our ever-increasing connectivity allowing us to become friends with people from all around the globe and the demands of everyday life, meaning we’ve developed distinct friendship groups (i.e., work friends, school friends, football friends, internet friends, etc.), which was not possible during Aristotle’s life. Our meaning of friends has changed and adjusted over time, which means that it isn’t always possible to put in the amount of effort Aristotle claims we need to put into a friendship for it to become virtuous.
Both Sonja Lyubormirsky and Confucius view happiness as a journey to achieve through the different stages of our lives, and that’s how we sustain it. Lyubormirsky speaks about maintaining happiness through different happiness interventions to make sure we are always remembering and savoring the high points within our lives, as well as what we have done to improve others. This provides us with a sense of gratitude, which in term presents itself to us as happiness. By maintaining these interventions, we maintain and sustain our happiness. Lyubormirsky highlights not only the positive mental health impacts of learning to sustain our happiness, but the physical as well, for example a happy people are less likely to die from all causes up to twenty-eight years later. Confucius also sees happiness as a journey to improve our overall character. By learning and developing our place in society, it will allow us to sustain our happiness because we will be improving ourselves and thus the people around us. For example, joining clubs and groups and becoming an avid member of society allows you to invest in friendships due to the social interaction which brings all the benefits as mentioned above of friendship. As well as developing a good moral character by helping your local community by offering your time, and by helping it makes you feel good for knowing you are playing an active part in society. Confucius additionally points out that happiness can be achieved on the journey of your career, by being dedicated to your education, the better the opportunities of reaching a better job and wealth earned from hard work. Traditionally, Confucius believed that having money provided you with a higher social status, which allowed and lead to you being happy.
In contrast, Aristotle and Martin Seligman see happiness as the final destination, an end goal for humans. Seligman sets out this theory of happiness in the three lives: the pleasant life, the good life and the meaningful life; although described as a journey to develop from one life to the other through the advancement of your character, such as recrafting your skills to improve other people’s lives, as well as your own. True, complete happiness, according to Seligman, can only be achieved in the meaningful life, where you use your highest strengths in service of something greater than yourself, i.e., helping others and the community. He states that by employing our strengths into a bigger purpose gives us the greatest sense of fulfilment, and that only then will our happiness be sustained. However, as previously stated our natural greedy nature as humans can cause us to push too hard and eventually lose satisfaction from the thing that used to bring us joy, we could begin to see our highest strength as a burden and a societal expectation. Additionally, as Lyubormirsky highlights, Seligman claims that once the meaningful life is achieved, happiness is the sustained reward, but yet there is no research that this is the case, and with the likelihood of pushing too far, is it a possibility to retreat back into the good life or even the pleasant life? Similarly, Aristotle points out that happiness can only be seen as the end goal for humans, because everything we do in our lives is with the hope and aim that it will make us happy either in the short or long term, and nothing more. As shown with the example above, the pursuit of other interests, like relationships, is only deemed important because we know and expect the outcome will make us happy. This approach can be applied across all scales, for example, we choose to eat a slice a cake not because we need to eat, but because we want and expect it to make us happy once we’ve eaten it. Furthermore, we decide to start a family not because society expects us to or because you’ve found ‘the one’, but because the outcome, the baby, will make us happy.
Despite both the philosopher’s and psychologist’s viewpoint of what happiness is, who do we follow? How can one determine who is right and wrong? Is it based off scientific research because if it is, we have to discard Aristotle and Confucius’ opinion on happiness as they have no evidence to back it up? But yet the overlaying similarities between their views and Lyubormirsky and Seligman’s viewpoints show that despite the thousands of years separating them they still believe similar things like friendship provide us with happiness. Therefore, if we cannot base happiness on scientific research, is it based off the individual or society? Confucius would argue it’s our place in society that creates happiness, by having a sense of duty and responsibility within society, it fills us with a purpose and meaning, consequently, creating happiness. Whereas Aristotle sees it as the individual who causes happiness by always selecting and following the path that will lead to the greater good. He states that happiness is the supreme good for man and that its down to our every action if we get rewarded with happiness at the end. In comparison, Seligman and Lyubormirsky refuse to squeeze happiness into either the individual or society, claiming that it’s more a feeling we all strive to feel continuously throughout our lives. Their research and theories illustrate the ways to achieve happiness and sustain it through various activities, as well as improving ourselves to aid others and our community. To conclude, each individual highlighted above show how complex and difficult it is to answer the question, what happiness is. With so many factors at play and with society constantly changing and adapting and the present of different religions and cultures, one believes it is impossible for one simple conclusion to be met, instead it’s important to strive for what we want in life, as like Aristotle states we only go in pursuit of other interests in the hope of that bringing us happiness and joy.
Taking Aristotle, Confucius, Seligman and Lyubormirsky’s theories and approaches, one can state that parts of them all can be applied to our modern society. One may believe that by improving ourselves, as Seligman states, we should to achieve the meaningful life, is necessary as not only does that enhance our lives, but also allows us to feel a sustained sense of achievement and joy. But it also allows us to help others, something all four individuals make very clear is key to living a happy life. However, it can be disputed that happiness can only be attained at the end of one’s life, as the final goal of man. In my opinion happiness is a working progress everyone is working towards and everyone reaches at varying points of their lives, although this happiness isn’t usually sustained, it persuades us to continue on our happiness journey because we want to feel that sense of happiness again and again. But the pressures of modern life are something all four fail to mention effectively, with our pace of life being the fastest it’s ever been and the constant pressure to portray the perfect life to the outside world, happiness is usually pushed to the side. Such things like stress put strain on our emotions and well-being and can delay all attempts to increase our happiness, like writing a gratitude journal. Despite all this negatively, one thinks it is important for society to change to allow the individual to pursuit happiness by joining clubs, by creating new valued friendships, by carrying out mindfulness activities, by recrafting our strengths and by helping others. Our pursuit of happiness is a long way from being achieved, but it’s also a long way from being scrapped. Society will have to change to allow people to embrace happiness, and as Lyubormirsky has shown happiness comes with a numerous amount of physical and mental benefits. Into the future, our search will continue, and with more people being open about their mental health and the pressures of everyday life, the more society will listen and will change for the better; but it’s down to the individuals to want to hunt down happiness before the roller-coaster of emotions can start.