What is a good life? Laying some groundwork

As promised, a prompt for our continued discussion principally on this idea that perhaps the pursuit of the good life (or a happy one) could in some way preclude us from attaining it. In other words, in general terms, can happiness be meaningfully pursued, or is it or should it instead be a byproduct or fruit of something else, of some other pursuit?

In thinking towards our first reading, might not the search for happiness entail its own undoing? Might the modern commandment to, “Be happy!” produce its own form of discontent?

And I’m deeply interested in your ideas about happiness as a sort of “right” or entitlement. Do you believe that we have a “right” to happiness? Why or why not?

Finally, in response to the Truman Show, what role does free will play in the pursuit of a good life? In other words, how authentically lived must a life be in order to be deemed “good” or, to use some good terms brought up today, “noble” or “honorable”? (Ooh, this is a good one.)

Please post a comment in response to these questions and to your classmates’ ponderings here no later than midnight Martin Luther King Day (Monday, Jan. 21), so I have a chance to read them before class the next day).

28 Responses to What is a good life? Laying some groundwork

  1. Adam Jarrell says:

    I would not say that actively pursuing the good life would exclude you from attaining it. Although, it does depend on the degree on which you pursue your good life. The best analogy i can think of is a road trip. Say you have looked at your position and personality and know what will make you lead the best life, going to New York (or you could skip that step and get in your car and drive off aimlessly to find the good life. In which case you may make it, or you may not). So, you look at a map and see that it is north. you could drive north, or not to pursue it to directly, so you don’t ruin the experience, you drive south and hope you have fun along the way (you may make it, or you may not). Say you went north, there is again two options. one to drive on a strict schedule (like bus rides, which are not very fun), or you could take detours and enjoy the trip. In both options you make it to New York, your good life, but in one the misery of the trip may leave a sour taste in you mouth and ruin New York for you. This also goes back to the vegetable dilemma. If you plan ahead and know that vegetables are better for you than you favorite food, you may think that vegetables are all that you can eat. On the other hand, if you eat a lot of vegetables and some of you favorite food that will make you life a lot more enjoyable and better in the long run. So in conclusion I say know where you are going to start living the good life, but don’t sweat the short term stuff. On the long term choices, weigh your options and decide which one brings you closer to the good life, but also live in the moment and enjoy yourself because you can never go back.

  2. Brooke Heflin says:

    First, I agree with Adam’s road trip analogy in response to whether or not the pursuit of the/a good life stops us from obtaining it.
    In regard to happiness as a right, I believe that we are entitled to the *opportunity* to be happy rather than the right to be happy. I believe this because it always seems impossible for everyone to be happy at once, due to various different things making people happy. If happiness were a universal right, inevitably someone’s right to happiness would be violated in the process of another’s gain of happiness. For example, let’s say that in order for me to be happy I want to buy a certain house, but buying that same house is what would make another person happy as well. Therefore, if we had the right to be happy, one of us would have our right violated. If instead we had a right to the opportunity to be happy, then we both would have our right in tact.

  3. I suppose I would agree with the road trip analogy in the respect that it is not wrong to have a certain idea of how a “good life” is defined for ourselves. I do not think it is inherently bad to set goals or to have dreams of a “good life.” Where is problem comes, however, is in the definition of “pursuit.” To me, pursuit implies a willful search, one that takes precedence or priority over other interests. With this definition, I would argue that the pursuit of a good life makes it ultimately impossible to attain it. By setting out simply to have a “good life,” we are focusing on attaining that life instead of the things that may ultimately make it up.

    I would also like to mention the Christian idea that in order to gain life, we must lose it. By giving up our lives, we are in exchange finding them. Religious aspects aside, I think of men like Ghandi and Nelson Mandela who represent this concept well. I would argue that very few people would be choice take up the life that Ghandi led- he went through very long periods of fasting, lived with the bare minimum of material goods, and was eventually assassinated. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, sacrificing the saftey and well-being of his family for his cause. Yet I believe that both of these men would say that their had good lives. Although perhaps they did not have what many of us would consider ingredients of a good life such as family, comfort, or even safety, they accomplished far more than the average.

    Perhaps by giving up our pursuit of the good life, we may in the end gain it.

    Because I feel that I’ve written perhaps too much on that topic, I’ll skip down to address whether or not happiness is a right. I do not think that it is a right by any means. Whether or not the actual pursuit is a right is a different debate altogether, but happiness alone is not a right. I think that it is a Western idea that we deserve to be happy, which is seen prominently in our culture. In America, we marry for happiness; this is not the case in many parts of the world. I believe that happiness is a privilege that should not be taken for granted. In my own experience, the tendency of Americans to classify happiness as a right has resulted in overwhelming amounts of materialism and greed.

    When happiness is viewed as a privilege and not a right, the priority is not to achieve happiness but instead to hope for happiness despite a current situation. This is why I also don’t equate a “good life” with happiness. I think that true happiness is being content or satisfied even when things are not good at all. Even in situations such as Ghandi and Mandela- when the current state is in fact quite bleak, true happiness is the ability to see the larger picture and the ultimate purpose in our actions and to rest in that.

  4. After looking over the readings and my discussion notes, I am still stuck on the topic of happiness. I honestly think that one’s outlook on life can cause happiness or a life of regret and suffering. Even if everything does not go your way, or just because you come from a poor family does not mean you necessarily have to accept those circumstances you have be given. I think that optimism leads to more passion in life, and thus a better end result of whatever one tries to accomplish, so in that case I think it can be meaningfully pursued. Still, if someone manages to accomplish all of their goals, it seems to me that it could also lead to their happiness of self fulfillment. However, the first reading of the “History of Happiness” discussed of some things that I personally disagreed with and here is a quote from it:

    “Where life is governed by uncertainty, no one can count no man happy until he is dead.”

    I believe that if we follow this statement, today, then all that we would be left with is discontent. What’s the point of living, if your life/your happiness won’t count or be determined until your death? This also brings up a point that was made our last class. Someone stated the difference in the class’s title of being called “THE good live” vs “A good life”. I think that because each individual has a separate standard for their own happiness and way of living, there cannot be a “A” perfect standard for living. Yes, in life we’re governed by the uncertain but happiness IS attainable. It’s determined by that individual and what they make of the life they have. Everyone is entitled to some form of happiness at least once in their life because we are not born with the chance to determine the kind of life we do have. We do not get to choose where we are born, the type of family, wealth, skin color, or our level of intelligence, to say the least. We all can attain, in some form, happiness.

    Finally, in response to the Truman Show and the pursuit of a good life, I feel that although our birth is out of our hands or the fact that our lives are somewhat predestined, we all have free will to chose where we go in life and what we will do with all that we’ve been given. However, I would say that to deem a life as “good”, the person would have to live their life to the fullest and reach their full potential.

  5. Taylor Sautter says:

    For whether or not a good life should be pursued or simply be a byproduct of something else, I feel as though the best approach is a combination of the two. I believe humans should hold goals and strive to accomplish certain milestones on an individual basis but accomplishing these goals should not be the sole determinant of whether we lived a good or happy life. As suggested in “A History of Happiness”, fate determines much of our lives, so whether or not we accomplish our goal quite possibly could be out of our own control. Therefore, I feel like a happy, good, meaningful life should actively be sought, but the pursuer should expect to change his/her plan along the way (as Adam suggested) and find a good life in whatever fate decides to make their own.
    Along with the need to be flexible in the purusit of a good life, I feel in some instances the search for happiness could effectively cause us to be unhappy. For example, if someone had a very fixed impression of what a good life looks like and continues to be unable to attain whatever that goal or impression of a good life is, then yes, I would say the quest for a good life could lead to greater unhappiness. Happiness depends upon one’s personality and how they deal with failure and change.
    In accordance with Brooke’s thoughts, I do not believe that we have an inherent right entitling us to it. At least happiness cannot always be presented to us in the exact way that we desire it or at the exact time we want it. For instance, in all contests in life, there is only one winner. Not everyone can win, and if everyone were to win, no one would be happy with that either for there would be no glory or honor in the title. However, I do believe we have a right to freely seek whatever it is we consider to constitue a good life and to actively continue the pursuit our entire lives through, even if it is deviant to how the normal “good” life is viewed.
    Lastly, I thought it was interesting you placed the words honorable and noble in the question about the Truman show. In class the other day, the discussion seemed to lead to the conclusion that being considered noble or honorable by peers, society members, or future generations meant that you were living or had lived a good life. I think for this conclusion, we must determine who is deciding whether a life was good or not. Those outside an individual’s life may feel it was a good life, reaching this conclusion due to brave acts of heroism or great leadership demonstrated by that individual throughout their life (things we normally label as noble and honorable). However, just because others see that life as good, the individual themselves may not conclude that their life is or was good. In the case of Truman, some may argue that Truman lived a sort of honorable or noble life. It was certainly unique, and he did provide entertainment for millions of people while sacrficing many aspects of his own life (whether he was aware of it or not), but I believe that if Truman had been asked if he had lived a good life, his reply would have undoubtedly been, “No”. Therefore, I am not certain we can always consider nobility or honor to be part of a good life.

  6. Chelsea Fryar says:

    In response to MacMahon’s question, if the goal of happiness becomes our only goal I think it is sure that we won’t find it. We as humans are very fickle. We may find one thing that makes us happy, but soon grow tired of it and become unhappy again so we move on to something else. The same thing often happens in marriages today – we get married and for a while are happy, but as soon as we become bored or unhappy we end the marriage and find someone else who makes us happy. In these situations, our own happiness has become our pursuit in life to the exclusion of everything else and we can never really find the soul-satisfying happiness we all crave because we’re always trying to find something that will be better or make us happier.

    It is important to have goals and to know the things that we enjoy and make us happy but I don’t think that happiness should be our main goal. For me, happiness is a byproduct of the pursuit of Jesus. A life lived trusting God and preparing the way for His kingdom is what I would call the good life. That doesn’t mean that I am comfortable all of the time or that I don’t feel hurt or see brokenness in the world but it does bring me joy because I can see the big picture and I am content knowing my purpose in it. Sometimes the things that make my life a good life are not necessarily things that make me really happy (at least in the short-term perspective). For example, loving people that are hard to love doesn’t thrill me but it is good for me because I learn to be patient and kind and to love like we’re called to love (which does make me happy in the long-run).

    I also think that happiness can be learned. It’s a lot like children learning to be afraid of spiders because they see their mothers fear them. Happiness is the same way – we watch the way our parents live their lives and if they are content with what they have then we too can learn to be content with what we have and do. If they are constantly chasing after the next thing that can make them happy, we’re likely to do the same thing. We can also learn happiness by looking at the examples of people like Gandhi and Mandela who were happy despite their circumstances.

    We should not measure our lives by how good other people think they were or how many heroic or noble acts they think we did. What matters is how we think our lives are – whether or not we feel we’ve done all that we were meant to, if we’ve fully lived, and if we’ve found joy and meaning in existence.

  7. Abby Ferguson says:

    I think that actively pursuing happiness or a good life as our primary goals is futile and self-defeating. A good life is a by-product of a life committed to something worth more than myself. As far as I am concerned, a good life can only be achieved by, among other things, loving and serving others and living a self-sacrificial life. If my primary goal were to please myself, then I would be extremely selfish and therefore not capable of living a truly good life. I don’t think that a good life and happiness are synonymous, but constantly pursuing happiness is at the same time not a good life, and not personally satisfying. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said of his pursuit of pleasure:

    “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward of my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

    Solomon discovered that personal pleasure is not truly satisfying. Also, if we look at the word “happiness” it doesn’t make sense to try and make it our life-long goal. “Happy” is related to “happen/happening” meaning that it has to do with what is currently happening to us. We cannot feasibly be happy all of the time because it is too affected by our immediate circumstances, which often involve things outside our control.

    I think Chelsea was right in using two words I haven’t heard much in our discussions yet: joy and contentment. Joy is not simply another word for happiness, but is in fact something entirely different. Contentment is joy despite imperfect circumstances.

    In response to the Truman Show, I think it is very possible to live a good life even when it lacks some authenticity. Take the story of Jean Valjean in Les MIsérables. After his release from prison, Valjean changes his name and spends most of the rest of his life hiding his true identity. He was not completely honest with anyone until he was on his deathbed, and yet he was unfailing generous, compassionate, pious, affectionate and selfless and had the reputation of a truly good man. Does the lack of authenticity negate the goodness of rest of his life? I don’t think it does.

  8. Nicole Fredette says:

    As I am reading all of these blog posts, a lot is going through my mind. But one thought in particular keeps reoccurring in my mind, and that is my belief that the pursuit itself, or in other words the journey, is what counts in my opinion as determining a good or happy life. As Abby mentioned before the word “happiness” refers to what is happening in the moment; therefore, it is not necessarily the result that really matters in a good life, but it is how well the journey was spent to get there. Going back to Adam’s analogy of the road trip, there are various ways to get from point A to point B; however, certain ways may benefit you and others more. In other words, in order to live a good and happy life, one must enjoy and make the most out of every moment in his or her life. He or she should try and live each moment to the fullest in order to gain happiness and goodness. And as mentioned before, happiness may not be an immediate result; there is bound to be times of sadness and anger along one’s journey through life. However, these moments are what only add to the happiness; they are what make people understand and appreciate happiness. Furthermore, they allow people to grow and learn from their mistakes in order to fix the problems in their life to achieve goodness. Most likely fixing one’s mistakes will help one to make a positive difference in others’ lives as well, which only adds to “a good life”. Therefore, I do not think that the pursuit takes away from a good and happy life, but rather it is what helps to define a good and happy life.
    And yes, I think we all have a right to happiness; however, the degree of happiness will vary from person to person. Furthermore as I mentioned before, I do not think one deserves or needs to be happy all of the time in order to achieve a good life because the unpleasant instances in life only help us grow in the long run and pursuing a good life cannot be totally happy because like Chelsea said, we are going to have to make sacrifices in order to better ourselves, help others, and serve God.
    Lastly, authenticity in a good life is a tricky matter because some lies are actually better than telling the truth because they cause less chaos. For instance, if I were to tell my friend that I thought her shirt was ugly, because that’s truly what I thought, telling the truth would obviously do more bad than good. Therefore, it is sometimes better to just not say anything than tell the truth, given the circumstance. However, it is only better to an extent because if a life is full of more lies than truths, then at some point I think they would cancel out because of how much the lies could hurt another when discovered. Overall, I think authenticity in a good life really depends on the situation.

  9. Erin Griffin says:

    To link our key words in a circle even more entrenched in syntax, I would have to agree that merely searching for happiness can cause it to elude us, and that happiness may be an outcome of the pursuit of “the good life.” Simply chasing happiness is a selfish endeavor and one unworthy of a lifelong investment. However, if we have priorities above ourselves, and if we live for something greater than transitory enjoyment or contentment, I believe happiness will come naturally. To use a few hackneyed phrases, it is like the satisfaction of a job well done or a service rendered for someone else. I think that if we pursue a “good life,” we have a better chance at happiness by focusing our perspective elsewhere and not on ourselves.

    I don’t entirely support the notion of a right to happiness. While I want to, while it would be nice to demand happiness from an outside force, I think that mindset leaves too much room for being bitter and jaded. I hope to take a more active responsibility for my life. I can’t expect anyone or anything to make me happy.

    Free will is an essential aspect of happiness. I think humans are wired to yearn for choice and options. If something beneficial is forced upon us, we are prone to dislike it simply because we could not control it. I can say that for myself, at least. It can be an unfortunate tendency, but it can also ensure that we make our own lives. Because of this, we may not acheive a “good life,” but we do acheive what we choose.

  10. Meagan Endozo says:

    As I am sitting here on my couch, the movie “The Adjustment Bureau” is on the TV. It is a movie that concerns free will and a final plan written by a “Chairman” and carried out by bureau members. One man, Matt Damon, is destined to be an incredible President of the United States. One day, he runs into a girl named Elise who is an incredible dancer. They have an instant connection and she inspires him to give an incredible speech, but he is never supposed to see her again. Except for that he does. From that point on, Damon battles between his desire to be with Elise and knowing that doing so would be giving up his dreams of Presidency and Elise’s of dancing. The Bureau tells him that if the two of them were to get together, it would be “enough,” and they would no longer feel the need to pursue their dreams. And so the Bureau does everything they can to get in their way.

    I feel like this movie is a good example of the complexity that our question entails. I think that many of us would agree that a successful Presidency or the being a professional dancer are rather good lives. But would Damon and Elise be happy? They would have to live their entire lives without the ones that they love. But then again, living with each other and giving up their dreams may be, for them, a good life. And certainly they did everything in their power to “pursue” it, rather than wait for their happiness to come to them. If they had simply sat back and waited, the good life would have certainly come to them (President of the United States and professional dancing), but their love might never have been given a chance, and that is the thing that makes them truly happy.

    While I agree that actively seeking out happiness can sometimes lead to selfish endeavors that leave the person less happy than before, I think that simply sitting back and waiting for happiness to fall out of the sky might not be the best answer either. We have to take a role in our own happiness. But there are limitations. We must be careful not to step on the toes of our neighbors and peers, which is why we cannot all lead “perfect” lives. Someone who is very selfish and doesn’t actually care about anyone else may have the ability to seek out the perfect life for his or herself, but due to the selfish nature of everyone other person and their desire to be happy as well, other people will likely not be very willing to make the necessary sacrifices for that selfish person unless he has some kind of power over everyone, like an authoritarian king. Basically, I believe that once we figure out what makes us happy (a discovery that might indeed fall out of the sky by chance), it is up to us to actively pursue a life filled with those things that bring us joy.

  11. Matthew Williams says:

    I believe that true happiness is not necessarily something that can be pursued. In this aspect, I feel that there is no definite way to actually strive to attain it. Instead, I think that one may have a vague idea of what can lead to happiness, but becoming too absorbed in the journey to find happiness will prevent one from actually obtaining it. Therefore, in my opinion, happiness can be reached by living life to the fullest, and not worrying too much about finding happiness. To put it simply, happiness will find you, not the other way around.

    Also, I agree with the belief of Solon, from the McMahon excerpt, that happiness can only be fully realized at the conclusion of a life. From my own personal experiences, I have found that you never know what is around the corner in life. This theme was also present in the McMahon excerpt, in that Croesus believed he was the “happiest man in the world,” but circumstances that arose after his statement, such as the death of his son, proved otherwise. Therefore, one can experience pleasures in life, but happiness is a compilation of these pleasures that is only obtainable at the end of a life.

    Finally, I think that free will must not necessarily be present for one to experience a good life, rather, the illusion of free will must be present. If an individual believes they have a choice in their actions, they will be able to obtain happiness on their own terms, even if they are actually controlled by something, or someone, above their own power. However, if the person knows they are being controlled, and they ultimately have no way of choosing their own path, this person will not be able to truly experience a good life, as they will feel that they never actually accomplished anything on their own, which I feel is necessary for a good life.

  12. Micah Bhachech says:

    Our experience in this world is rather ugly and gross. There’s a lot of death, hunger, heartbreak, bad music, homework, grey hair, poverty, and etc. The thing that strikes me as entirely odd and almost inexplicable is that, though we do not know of any life without those inconveniences, we still look for something called “happiness”. It seems like a stupid thing to say; how could we be happy in a world of war and Justin Bieber singles? But we have never experienced a world without pain. Logically we have no frame of reference for anything better; we have no reason to assume that there is a better thing or a more beautiful world. To lament death and taxes and all that is like being sad that we didn’t evolve into gaseous beings or green people. We don’t know a world better than this one, but this one makes us miserable.
    That is why we all look for something to make us happy. Religion X is supposed to cure the evils of this life. If we make X number of dollars, we’re supposed to be happy. Attractive Mate X will validate us and fill us with euphoria. Loud music and flashing lights are all we need for genuine happiness. Art is the only true happiness. These are the kinds of things that humans grasp at in our search for something better. General dissatisfaction and a strive for more is, I think, a universal human condition. We’re all unhappy, so we look for something that makes us unhappy.
    The idea that pursuing a good life negates the obtaining of a good life, if true, will inject an immensity of melancholy into our course. Everyone is seeking happiness, and if in seeking we cut ourselves off from it, life will inevitably suck. I don’t think we can not seek happiness in a certain sense. We can’t not look for our own self-interest. That’s why Jesus said, “love your neighbor like you love yourself”. Because the only selflessness comes, not from disinterested affection (I’m almost convinced that doesn’t exist), but by valuing another as critical to our own, so to say, happiness. So my suggestion is that it is not at all possible to avoid pursuing the good life. I don’t mean to make us all out to be selfish; I only mean that to pursue something “other that” our happiness is to make our happiness contingent on that “other” thing. Even in the Christian tradition, God (as the ultimate source of selflessness) saves humanity for his sake, because they/we make him happy.

  13. Mariel Gubenski says:

    I think that the active, conscious pursuit of happiness would preclude the attainment of it. It would be illogical to say that we do not all search for happiness because humans are programmed to want happiness or at least to not want pain, sadness, etc., but the active pursuit of personal happiness would lead to selfishness. Also, happiness is not a measurable goal, so it would be impossible to know if you have reached it. Since it is not measurable, people would continue to pursue it and never be content with the amount of happiness in their lives. So if we are programmed to want happiness but should not make it our main goal, there must be a higher pursuit whose biproduct would be happiness. Otherwise, pain and suffering would be pointless and detract substantially from our goal of happiness.

    I do not believe that we have a “right” to happiness. It is something that must be discovered through our higher pursuits. Obviously, I believe that everyone has the right to search for happiness. It would be difficult to guarantee someone happiness because of the varying definitions of happiness. For some, happiness would be defined by material possessions, while for others it could mean inner happiness as a result of good works.

    Free will plays a huge role in attaining happiness. Because of the varying definitions of happiness, each person should have a role in acquiring his or her own version of happiness. Without free will, nothing we do could be considered noble because we would be forced to do it.

  14. Frankie Hudson says:

    Dear other members of this class:
    I love reading all the blog posts, and discussing in class with all of you. The sincerity and engagement here is amazing.🙂

    Here’s my contribution to the conversation. Unfortunately it returns to something we’ve already picked to pieces quite a bit, but as it’s relevant, I’ll address the issue of distinguishing “good” from “happy” as what we look for in life.
    The question posed in this blog post was “Does the search for happiness entail its own undoing?” I believe, using those words, yes it can. This notion we have that ultimate happiness (our personal idea of perfection, if you will) is attainable and should be sought after in order to make the best use of the time we are given can only lead to disappointment. As Micah has said, how can we ever find perfection in this imperfect world? As Chelsea brought up, how can prioritizing our own satisfaction above anyone else’s be making the best use of our time, when that’s inherently selfish? And wouldn’t we be destined to fail, if our goal was to be completely ‘happy’ 100% of the time? Obviously we are going to encounter pain, sadness, and anger. Seeing a human life as a pursuit of happiness above all else is, ironically, a depressing thought.

    However, considering the achievement of a “good life” is a different matter. I would venture to say that if one spent a lifetime pursuing goodness, they would have succeeded in finding it. After all, if your idea of goodness is being honest and selfless, and you constantly work to make sure you are those things, then aren’t you living your good life? In this way, ‘good’ is very different from ‘happy.’ Whereas the pursuit of HAPPINESS can keep you from finding it, the pursuit of GOODNESS actually ensures that you will.

    One thing I got from the article by McMahon that I think ties in well is this point: There is a difference between what we want to *accomplish* and what we want to *attain.* Accomplishment would be the goal in our search for a good life; attainment relates more to whether we think we’ve found happiness or not.

    The question of whether happiness is our right or not…I’ll try to keep this short… Saying happiness is a right implies (like Erin said) that we expect some outside force to provide it for us. Disagree. However, I DO think that the right to PURSUE happiness should be afforded to everyone. Whether that be spiritually, intellectually, materially, emotionally… However we define it, I think all humans should have the right to try improving their situations and themselves.

  15. Deadline has passed. Thanks to all for your comments.

  16. Blake Trenary says:

    It seems to me that the pursuit of happiness in and of itself is a useless endeavor. Happiness, I would argue, is not the “chief end of man,” because happiness, even in the Aristotelian sense with all its depth, is still a superficial thing to pursue. We have all heard that “money isn’t everything”; well, I would argue that “flourishing” isn’t everything. In fact, I would go a step further and assert that being in poverty–financial, emotional, spiritual–is what positions a human being to be filled with sometime with perhaps a bit more meaning than just happiness. This is not to say that WANTING to be happy is a bad thing–I, just like everybody else, WANT happiness, and go about everyday life as if I am going to achieve it, or, to borrow Aristotle’s reasoning, LIVE it, but it isn’t what I strive for above all else. If I attain (or live) it, I’ll take it as it comes, but (to use the wording of the first question) I think it should be the byproduct of something else, something richer and deeper, like the pursuit (and living out) of truth, for instance.

    However,I do think we should live with hope of EXPERIENCING happiness periodically throughout our lives, because to live without that hope would be to create a truly depressed person. But, if a person is “sad” (meaning the antithesis of our term “happy”), pursuing happiness for its own sake, like I have already said, will not do that person any good. This is because–to address the second question–pursuing happiness for its own sake does not in fact result in happiness, but a desire for MORE happiness than was first attained. I believe this assessment holds true for any conception of the word, whether it be the Greek conception or our own modern one which leads toward pleasure, because happiness, whether pleasure, flourishing, or anything in between, is like a drug–it satisfies for a little while, but then the first dosage becomes inert, and the person requires more in order to be satisfied (this is the concept–and undoing–of Hedonism).

    Let me get one thing straight–happiness is not a bad thing. I just don’t believe that being happy is the answer to all life’s problems. I also don’t believe that we as human beings are entitled to happiness. If we were, that would mean (if we take the Aristotelian view) that we are entitled to “flourishing,” which is the same as saying that we all deserve to be well-off, healthy, etc., just because we exist. The Declaration doesn’t even provide for such a right, but only allows us the right of the “pursuit of happiness,” which is a different concept altogether. Furthermore, we are “endowed by our creator” with this right, removing the right from us in the sense of it being innate, since the right itself is bestowed by a higher power. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, but I feel these distinctions are necessary to my thesis, namely that happiness–even in the sense of flourishing, since flourishing can encompass several key realms of human experience–is something that comes and goes with the changing of circumstances.

    To the final question: free will plays a major role in the living of a “good” life. If a person can’t make his own choices, how can he be expected to receive rewards or penalties for actions (or an entire lifetime of actions) that he couldn’t control? Or, in the case of Truman, how could he be expected to live an authentically GOOD life when everything in his life was staged–when everything around him was good, essentially removing the choice to respond however he desired because he had no reason to choose to do anything bad, since everything around him was always perfectly good? Such conditions remove the potency of the moral implications of good (or bad/evil) actions.

  17. Missy says:

    The “A Brief Version of Time” article sparked my current perspective on the hunter/gatherer lifestyle and the modern society in “First World” Countries. While our ancestors nomadically moved from place to place before the notion of settled farms, most of the day was spent in Leisure. Many have the perspective that this time era is to be greatly feared because it had a shorter lifespan for the people and a few medical problems could lead to death. I find that sentiment mislead by the propaganda of film and current third world countries that are forced to uninhabitable land by expanding cities and villages. One of the leading causes of death in the United States is heart attack and heart conditions in general. Many modern conditions we are battling are contributed to by a sedentary lifestyle in the modern era, such as diabetes. Pollution from industrial revolution has been known to cause asthma in developing children. Hunter/gatherers lead a “Laters” mindset, but kept their bodies very active with hunts and travelling. The “Laters” attitude allows an individual leisure and allows time to ponder on what is desired, and allots significant more time with family and kinsmen. Having a “Nows” perspective leaves little time to truly enjoy what has been accomplished, as they are so focused on the new adventure or skill they wish to obtain. Many modern individuals have the “Nows” mindset and attempting so much in a little timeframe leads to heavy stress, again, one of the leading causes of medical complications in today’s society. The “Nows” can be so focused on mastering everything and gaining all they can, that family and relationship building may be left behind. I fear that my generation will be so focused on gaining skills for careers and monetary gain that old age will be spent with those skills alone, without the large families of the old era.

    Herodotus’s History depicts the death of men in their prime as the happiest men of time, and I consider this my own perspective. While many may believe that achieving one’s goals leads to happiness; I have the mindset that a person striving for a goal but never fully attaining it, always on that route to the goal and not giving up is the good life. A goal for life gives a reason to maintain life and if that goal is never achieved in a lifetime, there is never a time of uncertainty of what that second, or infinite other goals should be. Disappointment stems from a goal that has failed, and because of this, a life goal shouldn’t have a set timeframe to be accomplished in. The life goal of an individual to maintain a good life should have hope of attainment even if it is attempted infinitely, on the other hand, a goal that is accomplished may also be disappointing because that individual’s strive to live is now over and he/she must find a new life goal. People cut down in the prime of life, when that goal is almost reached, have lived the best lives because they haven’t reached disappointment from the life goal failing or succeeding. Of course this perspective describes the good life for the individual; society would consider a good life as one that helps society.

    Within the same article by McMahon, the perspective of rightful happiness is discussed. While luck does account for many freak accidents and new obstacles, I feel that my perspective of happiness is chosen by an individual in the fact that they may give up on their life goal and be forever regretting their decision, or one may get back on the horse even when life knocks them off to the ground. Persistence to that life goal is a sign of happiness. I very much disagree that a life must be pleasant to be considered good, as a man or woman plagued with obstacles and yet still fighting for a life is to me considered happy. In the same way, the ideas of pleasure as happiness are not consistent with my perspective and I do not believe that is a significant factor in a “good life”. Much like Thomas Jefferson intended, individuals have the right for the “pursuit of happiness”, because in my definition, happiness is a pursuit. J. O’Tooles, “Happiness must be the supreme end to which we aspire, and every other good must be a means to that end” (30) adequately depicts my sentiment.

  18. Megan Reed says:

    The constant pursuit of happiness will, in my opinion, lead to more unhappiness. Complete happiness all the time is unrealistic because we do not have control over everything that happens to us or the actions and choices of others. Also, the idea of a constant pursuit of happiness reminds me of the “hedonic treadmill”, which we learned about in Democracy and its Friendly Critics. People will always want to be happier than they currently are and believe that there is always a higher level of happiness which can be achieved, so they are never satisfied with their current happiness. The modern command that encourages everyone to want to be happy leads people to be unhappy about their lives.
    This relates to what we talked about in class this week; students expect professors to be entertaining rather than just informative because they want their class experience to bring them as much happiness as possible.
    While I think that directly pursuing happiness alone is problematic, happiness can be achieved by pursuing other things, such as fulfilling relationships with friends and family or exploring something you are interested in.
    I do not believe that all people are entitled to happiness. However, I do believe that all people should have equal opportunities to attempt to do what makes them happy. Educational opportunities should be more equal among socioeconomic classes, success in careers should be based more on performance without discrimination based on race or gender, and while the law does allow people to practice the religion of their choice, society often discriminates against people based on religion and makes people feel unsafe when practicing their religion.
    In response to The Truman Show, I do believe that free will plays a large part in someone’s happiness. Having a degree of control over our lives makes us responsible for our own happiness. For most people, unhappiness is more frustrating when it could not have been prevented. Taking responsibility for our own choices and actions also makes us more noble by allowing us to see the consequences of our actions. Without free will, we cannot even make these choices.

  19. Brandon Sanders says:

    I think the actual pursuit of happiness can be considered a right for all human beings but when speaking of happiness itself as a right to everyone this seems a little ridiculous. Yes, you as a human have the right to live your life as you see fit pursuing your dreams and hoping for them to come true. Does this mean you are guaranteed happiness along the way? Of course not, the pursuit of happiness many times has obstacles in its path that lead to much discomfort and unhappiness. What we have been considering in class is a “good” life can not be labeled that until the end so I think the same thing applies for happy. A “happy” life can only be evaluated by the person once they have lived the extent of it. They can see if they achieved their goals and ended up where they wanted and they can weigh those successes against the costs of getting there. If they believe their life was fullfilling and they are ultimately happy with the outcome then I guess they lived a happy life.

    At the same time happy can be defined as a feeling of the present. Happiness can come and go in many peoples lives and every day brings something new. Happiness can be achieved by a person just through a random event that occured in their life. The same goes for unhappiness so there is never only one outcome. So i would say temporary happiness can be a byproduct of random events but as a lifelong trait it can be meaningfully pursued. Whether or not it is achieved is the real question because as humans we are not entitled to be happy but we can very much strive for it.

    In comment of the truman show I think knowledge determines whether or not a life is good in the eyes of the beholder. In Truman’s case if he lived his life completely ignorant of his surroundings and believed them to be true and worked under his morality to be a good person then I could not deem his life as bad. What would make that lifestyle bad in my eyes would be when he realizes his situation and still decides to live in fake bliss. With the knowledge of the situation Truman is entitled to search for reality and even more understanding of the truth. Authenticity then comes into play because if he knows the truth but does not seek it then he is no longer living a good authentic life. But if he does not know the truth then how can he seek it? Therefore his life is still authentic because that is all he knows.

  20. Rachel Blair says:

    I agree with you all that the PURSUIT of happiness should, as our Declaration calls it, be an “unaliable right” of all human beings. However, as many of you have pointed out, such a pursuit does not guarantee happiness, nor should it.

    I see life as a sort of roller costar, with ups and downs, twists and turns. Sometimes it’s a blast, sometimes it’s terrifying, and it’s over all too quickly. Yet it’s a heck of a ride. Thus when people do exercise their right to pursue happiness, they should keep this “wide range perspective”, realizing that they will reap the bad along with the good for “such is life”. If however, they don’t understand this concept, their very pursuit of happiness could be perceived “futile” and “unsuccessful” and they will be discouraged and discontented. The perception of what happiness will and won’t be helps to determine the level of happiness in your life.

    Free will also plays a critical role in this pursuit of happiness. As we saw with the Truman Show, Truman feels unhappy when he realizes he doesn’t have CONTROL over his happiness. That’s why his final choice at the end of the movie is such a strong statement.

    The statement he is making though is not “I know I will be happy by choosing the outside world” because he does understand that heartache and pain are a huge probability. Rather, his message is more poignant: “I know that in the outside world I may face unhappiness, but at least I’ll be free to pursue happiness for myself, and that in and of itself makes me happy”. As Truman shows us, it’s all about the perception of choice.

    True happiness is therefore, in my opinion, all about perspective and perception.

  21. Mackenzie Taylor Eickhoff says:

    I believe that happiness itself isn’t a tangible objective that can be reached through the pursuit of it. It must be the result of the pursuit of something else. This must be true because we as humans pursue what will make us happy and not the happiness that results from our pursuit. The pursuit of wealth and power may be sufficient for one person’s happiness whereas the pursuit of higher knowledge may satisfy another individual and bring them happiness. In other words, we should each do what makes each of us happy and reject the notion that we’re headed towards a goal of living a so-called “good life” as defined by others.
    In reference to the previous assertion, one cannot pursue happiness for the sake of being happy. Our pursuit of happiness could very well undo our own happiness because of the way happiness is seen in society today. While we pursue the wealth and security frequently associated with happiness in modern society, we could forget the little things that make us happy each day such as the sunrise or our children coming home from school and being excited to see us. We cannot define our happiness by the social norms of happiness as a tangible object such as money or a high position in a company because these things may seem like happiness to others, but could in all honesty make a certain individual miserable.
    Happiness is certainly not a right that can be promised to anybody as neither the government nor any other entity can promise someone—let alone everyone—happiness. I think the definition of happiness as used by Thomas Jefferson has a different meaning than what many think. I believe he used happiness as an alternate definition of property because many individuals believe that having wealth or certain objects will bring them happiness.
    In order for an individual to feel as if their happiness is sincere, they must have some sort of freedom to choose for themselves what to do with their lives. Unfortunately, most people pursue what appears to be a “good life” to others rather than truly discovering what would make them happy in life. So many people may live an “artificial” life of seeming happiness in order to seem happy to others while they are internally unhappy with how their life is going. If running around stabbing people made you happy, you would be unable to do so and be said by others to have lived a “good life” even if it was defined as “good” by you. We must conform to societal norms and values in order to have lived a “good life” as defined by others even if it truly causes us unhappiness.

  22. Maria Santos says:

    I don’t believe that the search for happiness will prevent you from attaining happiness. In fact, I believe that the journey to happiness should and will bring as much joy as the end product (happiness). Not only that, but the journey should reassure us that we are actually headed for happiness and not some seemingly “happy ending.” However, it is important to follow a path that is based on seeking true happiness and not based on seeking temporary pleasure. This temporary pleasure is what I believe can result in discontent when pursuing happiness. In McMahon’s article, he talks about how the “search for happiness” has a “tendency to lead humans astray.” I agree with this argument to a certain extent. Many people believe they are pursuing happiness when in reality, they are just going after the temporary pleasure I mentioned earlier. I think that the superficial distractions around us or more specifically, the temporary pleasure that is constantly tempting us is what truly may lead humans astray. For this reason, I think it’s important to focus on Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia in order to avoid discontent while striving to reach happiness. This concept helps to explain that one area of the journey to happiness is in short, completely out of our hands. It is based entirely on luck and fortune, so we have to accept that certain circumstances may prolong or negatively affect our journey to happiness. However, the other part of eudemonia that focuses on personal ethics is in my opinion, what will lead to true happiness because we are in total control of it. If we live a life centered on being morally and ethically good, I believe the journey to happiness can be a pleasant one, and will result in true happiness.

    I don’t believe that we all have a right to happiness, but I do believe we all have a right to pursue happiness. We all have some sort of idea on what we want our life to be like, and everyone has the right to pursue the life they want, which is usually based on being happy. McMahon points out that if we all have a right to happiness, then someone should provide that for us. Obviously, this does not happen, so our happiness is not a right, but rather something we all have the right to pursue, knowing that there is no guarantee we will achieve it.

    In response to the Truman Show, free will is one of the most essential factors in pursuing a happy life. Free will allows us to have choices; it allows us to choose to be good people. How can we call I call myself a good person, if all my “good choices” were chosen by someone else? When pursuing happiness, I think of morals and ethics as the backbone of the whole concept. Consequently, it is my own choices based on my morals and ethics that ensure that my life is a good one and that I’m choosing to live in a “noble” way, not that someone else (who is controlling my choices) is forcing me to be a “noble” person.

  23. Emily Melchior says:

    As college students at Berry we experience some luxuries most college students in public universities can hardly dream of. However, we have grown accustomed to this bubble and are therefore growing relatively unsatisfied with what it offers. Rather than being happy, I know of many students who are restless at Berry. I believe that happiness is not anything concrete and it is very subjective to each person. I think that in order to attain the “happiness” philosophers have depicted for centuries is merely a state of mind.
    True happiness is not one that is derived from tangible objects, and when one is truly happy they will find happiness from the pursuit rather than the end result. This pursuit of happiness is a “right” but happiness is a gift. I believe the pursuit itself proves enough to make happiness a reality. When a person has the drive to engage in something so worthwhile, determination produces a kind of euphoria which is happiness. The journey is the real test of happiness, in my opinion.
    We often take our free will for granted, and assume that perhaps if we didn’t have to make a choice, if everything were provided for us, our lives would be much less complicated and complex. However as we witness in the Truman Show, free will gives us the ability to experience happiness and the opportunity for a “good life” on our terms. When he had the option to choose his own fate, he took it, fulfilling his life which had been so limited before. I believe that in order to live a “good life” we have an obligation to take advantage of the opportunities presented before us, and this is impossible without free will. Free will is imperative in developing a good life and without it, life is limited.

  24. Kayla Jo Robyn says:

    I have always been a big fan of John Lennon’s sixth grade essay response to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He answered simply, “I want to be happy.” The teacher responded by saying he had misunderstood the assignment, and Lennon in turn replied that maybe the teacher had misunderstood life. I have led a pretty unconventional life the past three years; I took a year off after high school to back pack across Colorado and Utah, hoping that I would find what it meant to be happy. The entire time I was living in the wilderness, I searched for the meaning of happiness. I searched within myself trying to figure out what would finally make me happy. All of this soul searching for happiness ended up taking over my thoughts and my time. It consumed everything I did, and I was unable to just be in the moment. After two months in the wilderness, I realized I was truly happy just being out there in the middle of nowhere with nothing and no one to depend on but myself. I realized I did not need to pursue happiness, I just needed to be there in the moment appreciating the beauty and the glory that was surrounding me. I believe that happiness is not a destination, but a journey. I truly believe that happiness is subjective; I believe that life is what you make it. If you choose to appreciate every card you are dealt, whether for the beauty of it or the lesson that will be learned from it, I believe you will find happiness. As you can see, I agree wholeheartedly with Aristotle when he says that happiness is an action. Happiness is achieved while traveling down the road, not when you reach the end of it.

    I am still struggling with the question of whether or not happiness is a right. I do not feel that happiness is an unalienable right- if people were always happy, soon we would forget why we were happy. We would quite possibly forget we were happy at all and fall into a state of robotic day to day numbness. It is the trials and tribulations of life that allow us to truly appreciate the moments in which we are happy. I do believe that every living organism has a right to pursue happiness. We have a right to attempt things we think will make us happy. But doesn’t that just connect right back to a right to being happy? If we have the right to pursue happiness, and we achieve that happiness, it is basically the same thing as having the right to happiness. Perhaps the difference is that most Westerners expect happiness. We expect to wake up every day and do nothing and still be happy. In truth, happiness is a privilege that has to be worked for and gained. That is why I am such a strong believer in the concept of “the journey is the destination”. Quite often it is not the end result that makes us happy, rather the doing. We earn certain privileges by doing certain things, and in turn we achieve happiness.

  25. Emily Stromberg says:

    In the McMahon reading, we see that Croesus is driven to ruin by his quest for happiness. For me, this example from ancient times answers the question of whether the search for happiness in fact leads to despair. I believe that if you are searching for happiness and happiness only, you will only be disappointed. Happiness is not something tangible that you can find. It can only be found through other things, much in the same way that love cannot be simply found lying around. You must interact with others in order for love to develop, and happiness works in the same way. We all have things that we enjoy doing and we can all recall deeds that we did that brought us joy. These fleeting moments of happiness do not cause long lasting happiness in the sense that we have been discussing. However, when these things are repeated throughout life in conjunction with other deeds, they provide a general sense of happiness. For example, if raising your children and being as loving and supporting a parent as possible gives you joy, would not doing those things contribute to making your life happy? It is through the things we do, think, and say that we can attain happiness, not through the search for happiness itself.

    When it comes to happiness as a right, I believe that no one has the right to be given happiness, but that we all have the right to pursue it. And if we find happiness during this pursuit, then we have the right to feel it. No one can actually take away your happiness. Eleanor Roosevelt’s statement, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” holds true for happiness as well. You may live in a cardboard box, scrounge around dumpsters for food, and have no family or friends, but if you believe that you are doing the world and others good by doing so, you can find happiness. I believe that helping others is what happiness and goodness is all about. In order to live a “noble” or “good” life, you must put the interests of others before yourself. This does not mean that you should ignore your own wants and needs, but you shouldn’t always put them first. And because we are all individual, thinking, breathing beings, the extent to which we put others first will vary from person to person. We must find the balance between helping ourselves and helping others that makes us happy. Our lives are characterized by the relationships we build and the impact we have on others. I believe that if you leave a positive impact, you can look back on your life and say that it was “good” or “happy.”

  26. I don’t think happiness is the only piece to this puzzle. We must first understand, thought, that happiness is utterly dependent upon the conditions and circumstances that an individual is immediately surrounded by. Therefore, in order to be happy, one would have to be enveloped by situations or outcomes from the day that they themselves, by personal preference, find desirable, pleasurable, or enjoyable. I would say that happiness is almost like luck of the draw. This might make someone unhappy because of the fact that they may appear to have little control over their happiness; but this I don’t find very valid, however, because happiness in this life might be very similar to playing baseball. You might have little to no control over what kind of ball the pitcher will decide to through at you, but you do have every ability and capability to swing your bat as hard as you can. Swinging the bat in this analogy would mean taking all situations and trying to find the best out of them, in order to maximize your happiness. However, something I believe comes into play at this point is the distinction between happiness and joy. There is only so much positive thinking about situations in order to increase happiness that one person can do. Drawing upon my experiences as a Christian and being in the church, I’ve come to find similar ideas about happiness. Happiness is conditional. What happens to us does and we have no control over it. But while we may be unhappy in a certain situation, we can always find our joy. Joy is independent of condition. Joy, similar to hope, changes our outlook from the temporary here on Earth to the eternal in heaven. We have hope for a better tomorrow; so in the struggle we might be unhappy, but we can change perspectives in order to find peace and blessing (which in turn and being happiness, pleasure, contentment, satisfaction, etc.).
    To swing is to do something; swing is a verb. I confer with Aristotle in that happiness is achieved through action, not apathy. It would almost seem like happiness has to be gained in this regard. A homerun for happiness doesn’t come about by really hoping that it will happen. It comes from hard work, dedication to the sport, and perseverance through the tough innings. Baseball games also aren’t won instantaneously. They are taken pitch by pitch. Just as is with happiness and life. If the game is the span of a lifetime, then the pitches are different situations or scenarios we face, the swing is our attempt to make the most out of what we are given and relying on undying joy to do the rest (I don’t think that a person needs to be spiritual to have joy. While joy is grounded in such principles and makes it much easier to have, anyone who can look to the future with unfailing positivity can have something similar to joy.), and the winner of the game the outcome of a hopefully happy and good life.
    Therefore, with this said, I don’t think that happiness is a right. Since happiness is conditional, and can only spring from positive and enjoyable situations, I find it nearly impossible to find any way to ensure that everyone has a happy day every day. The pursuit of happiness, though, would be a right because everyone has the right to do something for themselves to improve themselves.

  27. Hali Holloway says:

    A person should not strive for happiness in and of itself. People, unknowingly or not, are constantly pursuing things that they feel will make them happy : a better job, true love, their dream house etc. If a person is simply set on obtaining happiness without motivation for certain, tangible things, they will never get there. There is no way to avoid the pursuit of happiness. People will always tend to do things that make them feel good, the difference between many people is what type of pleasure they chose to pursue… long term or short term. These are the Nows and Laters discussed by Alan Lightman in his article “A Brief Version of Time.” Both the individual who spends hours studying for medical school examinations and the one indulging in watching football games on tv are pursuing happiness, regardless of whether it’s with brief, immediate moments of contentment, or preparing for lasting happiness far ahead in the future.
    Being too caught up in the ultimate goal can prevent one from actually experiencing happiness. Emotions are not predictable and cannot be forced. It is more important to focus on individual pursuits and goals, rather than being determined to be happy. Happiness does not come by on its own, it is the result of a spent striving for things that will leave people satisfied with what they have accomplished.
    We cannot be given a right to an emotion. People do have a right to the things they have worked for and earned in their quest to find satisfaction with their lives. Whether or not these tangible things, such as relationships, job positions, money, or objects actually make the individual happy is up to them and the choices they made. People need to understand themselves well enough to know what choices will lead to their ultimate happiness, because they are not guaranteed it otherwise.
    There is a certain balance between the amount of control and the amount of restrictions needed for happiness. People like to make their own choices, this is absolutely necessary for people to feel totally satisfied with their lives. However, people who are given too many choices often feel overwhelmed and second guess themselves.

  28. harpercurry says:

    Aristotle said that happiness is the one thing that we humans pursue for the sake of nothing but itself. Striving for happiness merely to find it will not bring the ultimate satisfaction of true happiness to anyone. Happiness comes from living the life you are given with a sense of virtue and class. In class we stated that a happy life is the good life, and the good life is a virtuous life. I think that happiness only comes when a person is pursuing their passion. Most everyone has a passion, I am certain. Each passion is different and distinctive for each person. This makes every person’s path to happiness different as well.
    Planning ones way to happiness through a dead-set inked in life plan is a mistake. One does not know what life will hand them. Life is like my Uncle Joe’s game Grab-Bag. It is a huge bag of candy, and each person must reach in with eyes closed and take a bar of candy. The rules are you must close your eyes, you get what you get…no complaining, but trading is always aloud. And finally, no one is too old for Grab-Bag. This compares to life in that you reach out into the world for happiness and the good life blindly, not knowing what you will receive. You get what life serves you, and complaining will not get you anywhere. So, you trade what you have been given for something more suited to you. And, lastly, no one is ever too old for life to serve them a handful of living.
    Humans are not given the right to emotions. We just feel them. It is not a right to feel happiness or sadness even. Rather, it is an innate reaction I think. I believe happiness stems from satisfaction in one’s self achievements and actions. We do not have a right as humans to feel happy when we want. Happiness is earned through living a life of virtue, exemplary behavior, generosity, selflessness and selfishness combined evenly, and commitment to a worthwhile lifestyle.

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