“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” — Buddha

What is Happiness? Simply put, many consider it to be the state of being happy. However, if you think deeply, you could perhaps suggest or argue that all of our endeavours in life from the day we are born to the day we die ultimately are aimed at achieving this one over-arching objective… the creation of happiness…! 

To be able to define and evaluate Happiness is like catching Water in the palm of your hands and hoping it will stay. What’s more, it is an impossible task to do so in a small blog article such as this! 

Over the years, countless philosophers and thinkers have attempted to define this seemingly simple component of the human condition in many ways. There is a great deal we can learn from even the most basic philosophical tenets, which I’m presenting here. There are those who propagated Hedonism, or the pure pursuit of material pleasures. This school still has many adherents today, people who largely believe – make merry while it lasts. This is one life, live it King-size!

Then there are the spiritualists many of whom have propagated desire to be the source of all ills and that to find genuine happiness, one must shun all earthly desires and follow a more spiritual path. 

So what is Happiness really about? Is it about the simple pleasures? Or is it about larger goals? Is it about achieving Health or Wealth or Everything? Or is it about letting go of Everything?

Here are what some schools of philosophy think about happiness, with a view to us all learning how to create more of it in our own lives.

Buddha’s view of happiness

 The Buddha described perception of Happiness in two ways – 

Relative Happiness: this is whereby our happiness is related to us getting something, and is dependent on that something (like a monetary bonus, a gift or some praise, for example).

Absolute Happiness: which refers to a developing a state of life when we are Happy just to be alive, strong, determined and capable to achieve our higher potential and greater goals. Absolute Happiness in that sense is not dependent on external factors but on our inner self.

Aristotle’s view of happiness

According to Aristotle, happiness consists in achieving, through the course of a whole lifetime, all the good stuff — health, wealth, knowledge, friends, etc. — that lead to the development of better human nature and to the enrichment of human life.

People think happiness is a feeling. For Aristotle, happiness is not necessarily a feeling, it is a quality of one’s life as a whole and even beyond, made up by one’s own work and resources and even beyond. Therefore, happiness is up to the individual and cannot be given or received by outside forces.

Today many people often use the word ‘happiness’ synonymously with ‘pleasure’. Aristotle thought of ‘pleasure’ as a mere by-product of pursuing a healthy human activity and not as a worthy purpose for a decent person.

Socrates’ view of happiness

Socrates, according to the Platonic dialogues, stated that in life we should seek eudaimonia as our ultimate end. This refers to a state of well-being, a healthy spirit, or a type of happiness. The early dialogues focus on uncovering the nature of virtue and what it means to be virtuous. Being virtuous is the way one comes to accomplish eudaimonia. The two are synonymous.

In the Apology, Socrates famously says that the unexamined life is not worth living. Thus, for him, life is meaningless if he cannot continue to seek knowledge. He further says that evil acts are done out of ignorance, thus to be moral is a quest against ignorance.

To summarise, Socrates believed personal well-being is the meaning of one’s life and realising this meaning involves being virtuous and seeking knowledge.

The three key parameters of happiness

Firstly, for many, happiness is not necessarily a destination, but a way of life. But as humans, when your happiness is hinged on success, you may never attain true happiness. This is because so many of us are never satisfied with current levels of success, we often want more. Maintaining a healthy level of drive is key, but not to the point whereby we never truly recognise the progress we have already made. 

Goal – What are the Goals for our various endeavours in life. Are they Lower order Goals or Higher goals ? Lower Goals are the ones which fulfil the lower needs– like Food, Clothing & Shelter etc. Higher Order Goals are generally ones which help us expand and grow ourselves as Human Beings and generally pertain to positively impacting more and more people & the world around us. Does this mean that we should not have lower order Goals? Of course not!  No Goal can be sustained on an empty stomach. This just means that while we have lower order Goals for survival, we must decide what kind of Goals take up most of our mind-share, time and energy in life – Lower order Goals or Higher order ones? Achievement of lower order Goals give short term Relative Happiness, while achievement of Higher Order Goals gives Higher levels of Absolute Happiness which is more long lasting. If possible, track your progress. Research shows that progress on our goals makes us feel happier and more satisfied with life (Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior.). 

Mindfulness – According to some philosophers and schools of thought, Happiness is intrinsically related to cultivating Mindfulness. Most of us at most times are either thinking about the past or worrying about the future. The past is just a bundle of memories and the future is a bundle of possibilities. What is Real is only the present moment. Each one of us has inside us infinite potential and energy, and if we could live fully in the present moment, mindfully focusing and concentrating effort on what we are doing now, we would be very happy and successful. Hence, the extent of Mindfulness we exhibit has a strong correlation to being relaxed, hence extremely productive and insightful, hence Success and Happiness.

Beneficial Stretch – It is basically the extent to which we stretch and exert ourselves in our lives physically and mentally. This reflects in our determination, hard work, diligence, persistence, perseverance etc. This is extremely crucial because it is more about Taking Action…and action is so critical in the achievement of any goal. This one also encompasses all activities we take to train and develop ourselves both physically and mentally. The harder we train and develop ourselves, the better equipped we are at taking action and achieving our goals.

“Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions, it is governed by our mental attitude.” — Dale Carnegie

So what is your philosophy of happiness? Consider reviewing and exploring more of what philosophers had to say about happiness and see what you can learn and apply to your own thinking to advance your own happiness. 


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