The Pursuit of Happiness #4: According to Aristotle

I have been casually studying of Aristotle for many years, and have recently started another book about him. He was definitely a dreamer/thinker that I could never even imagine being. It is amazing to me how so many of his thoughts still apply today. Since he is one of my heroes, it just seemed natural that I look to him as to what he said about happiness.

Aristotle had a different idea of what the good life meant. He called it eudaimonia. This term means that happiness is not just a temporary experience but a lifelong pursuit. Abraham Maslow mirrored that with his idea of self-actualization in the 1950s. Self-actualization, which is at the top of the human needs pyramid.

In the 1970s, when I was trying to discover who I was I read the thinkers and humanists of those years, including Maslow, Fromm, Harris, Rogers, and others. It was nice to get a refresher on this group for this post.

Getting back to Aristotle, he believed that happiness was a lifelong project. It was not obtained until a person has gone through different phases of life. It was realized when we reach our full potential. Here are a few words by him about that as described in the book “The Nicomachean Ethics” by Aristotle (Author), Lesley Brown (Editor), David Ross (Translator)

For Aristotle, however, happiness is a final end or goal that encompasses the totality of one’s life. It is not something that can be gained or lost in a few hours, like pleasurable sensations. It is more like the ultimate value of your life as lived up to this moment, measuring how well you have lived up to your full potential as a human being. … For the same reason we cannot say that children are happy, any more than we can say that an acorn is a tree, for the potential for a flourishing human life has not yet been realized. As Aristotle says, “for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.”

This description pretty much aligns with Maslow’s self-actualization of reaching your full potential. So, according to Aristotle and Maslow, I could say

Complete happiness is only realized at the end of a journey towards resolving your inner conflicts including your sense of belonging, and respect for yourself and others.

I kind of like that idea. It makes the search for happiness a journey that very much depends on how you live your life, how you establish your life’s purpose, how you set your life’s goals, and maybe especially how you treat others. That’s kinda the golden rule, isn’t it?

This has been an enlightening take on happiness, if you ask me.


Next week I will be looking at another of my heroes for what happiness means. That hero was Albert Einstein.

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