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Is Happiness Just a Matter of Luck: Analytical Essay

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Aristotle was a Greek philosopher whose ideologies had a major influence on later philosophy, medieval Latin and Arabic thought, and Renaissance and early modern philosophy. He is largely regarded as one of the most important figures in philosophy. Happiness, according to Aristotle, is the highest form of good which means living a good life. This is one of the reasons why finding happiness has become the life purpose of many people around the world. However, despite man’s efforts to achieve happiness, the fact of the matter is that happiness has remained elusive, and many regards achieving happiness as simply a matter of good luck. Aristotle in his arguments in ‘Nicomachean Ethics’ maintains that happiness is hard to find. Some people attribute this status to human nature or having good luck, while others blame the world in which human beings find themselves as the reason why it is difficult to find happiness. The significance of this argument is to try and unearth why achieving happiness simply is not a matter of good luck, and that anyone can achieve it should they do the right things.

Aristotle’s conception of happiness is referred to as ‘Eudaimonia’. This means that happiness is not simply the feeling of happiness, pleasure, or contentment. Instead, it refers to a state of well-being or flourishing in your life. For Aristotle, happiness is the ultimate reason why we do the things that we do in all activities as human beings, we all aim to flourish and live well. Aristotle's 'happiness' is not the ‘psychological sensations’ that modern people usually think of (a.k.a. 'pleasure'), but more of something like 'human flourishing', and in Aristotle's case, 'doing well and living well', and to be even more specific, 'a life of virtuous activity in accordance with reason'. People might think that living well consists of achieving wealth, satisfying our desires, living a life of pleasure, being honored by others, or having a virtuous character. Aristotle gives reasons as to why none of these constitutes a good life. He thinks that money, pleasure, honor, and good character are all good things, but none of them is the highest good. We know this because there is a further reason why we seek money, pleasure, honor, and virtue. We seek them in order to achieve happiness. Nobody would seek to be wealthy or honored unless those things also brought happiness. So, this indicates that these goods are ends that are pursued the sake of a higher end and that the higher end is the final end of happiness. Aristotle expressed this by saying that “Happiness is something complete. That is why the happy person needs to have goods of the body and external goods added, and needs fortune also, so that he will not be impeded” (NE, 1153b). This simply means that we choose happiness and pursue it for its own sake. Happiness thus requires both virtuous activities and, separately, some at least of the external goods. Therefore, happiness simply cannot be a product of good luck, it is the product of the many things we do as humans that lead us to become virtuous. Again, Aristotle indicates that some goods of fortune are necessary for happiness. But this sentence again implies that the absence of luck never actually changes the course of one’s virtuous activity. Lacking fortunes merely obstructs virtuous activity, the loss of which directly weakens one’s happiness.

Another way in which Aristotle explains how we may achieve happiness is by determining what the function of a human being may be. Aristotle claims that “we must take life as activity, since this seems to be called life more fully. We have found, then, that the human function is activity of the soul in accord with reason or requiring reason” (NE, 1098a). Aristotle’s thinking is that when something fulfills its function, then it is doing well as that thing and is therefore happy. We can consider different practices or jobs, for example, Aristotle talks of a flute player, a sculptor, or any other types of experts are all persons that function well with their human nature, he states: “For just as the good, i.e., well, for a flutist, a sculptor, and every craftsman, and, in general, for whatever has a function and action, seems to depend on its function, the same seems to be true for a human being, if a human being has some function” (NE, 1097b). Aristotle means that happiness is deeply connected to fulfilling the function that one is supposed to fulfill in one’s job or one’s life, therefore it is not simply a matter of having good luck to achieve happiness.

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Alternatively, the concept of ‘good luck’ enters Aristotle’s framework in two ways, the first being for a person to be virtuous and live a life in accordance with virtuous activity, they must undergo the right kind of upbringing and training, and the second, being virtuous means being able to act virtuously, requiring the arrangements of the world in which we live to be in specific ways that are cooperative with our virtuous life for us to be truly happy and 'flourish'. These two things mean that we are inevitably dependent on certain factors, though not all of them, that are completely out of our control. Being blessed with a physically healthy body, being born in a well-off and loving family, being born into a society of the free (in the ancient Greek sense of the term 'free'), for example, being lucky enough to not have sudden baby death syndrome, being lucky enough to have parents who are virtuous enough to show you how to be virtuous, being exposed to certain ideas that promote happiness, being born with a healthy mind of not having constant hallucinations and anxieties, being friends with trustworthy people who won't betray you. Taking all of this into account, happiness, in Aristotle's sense, is deeply dependent on having good luck.

Furthermore, Aristotle also thinks that we need to be fortunate in order to be happy and live a good life. Aristotle says: “Some maintain, on the contrary, that we are happy when we are broken on the wheel, or fall into terrible misfortunes, provided that we are good. Whether they mean to or not, these people are talking nonsense” (NE, 1153b). He thinks that you need to be of good birth and to have a certain level of wealth that is enough to support yourself without worry. This does not necessarily mean you need to be rich to be happy and live a good life, as he states that “because happiness needs fortune added, some believe good fortune is the same as happiness. But it is not. For when it is excessive, it actually impedes happiness; and then, presumably, it is no longer rightly called good fortune, since the limit is defined in relation to happiness” (NE, 1153b). Having said that, Aristotle does think you need to come from a supportive family that gave you a decent education and that you need to have enough money to be comfortable. Without these favorable conditions, it would be very difficult to develop rational thinking and action to achieve happiness. Perhaps you never had a very good education and you never got into the habits of thinking rationally or acting well, and if you do not have enough money to support yourself, you will not have the time or ability to develop your rational thinking or action. This may suggest that happiness depends on having good luck, as many who are born into privileged lifestyles are often considered virtuous and happy, whereas those born into lifestyles of poverty or bad family life are regarded as unhappy.

To conclude, Aristotle claims that to achieve happiness you do not necessarily need good luck, but it does play a large role in determining how successful you are in gaining the full extent of happiness. Taking everything into account, without a doubt, having good luck does play a role in achieving happiness, with good luck one can expect the most leisure time, the most beneficial friends, and the most ideal environment to develop his intellectual life, and consequently, this kind of life is an extremely happy life.

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Is Happiness Just a Matter of Luck: Analytical Essay. (2023, November 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2023, from
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