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What is the Best Way to Aquire Happiness?
Five philosophers offer their opinions.
We asked young people what their most burning philosophical questions are. In order to answer them, we went and asked some of today’s leading thinkers.
Q: How is happiness best acquired?
- Daniel, 28
James Tartaglia, Keele University, UK
I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to this, despite the fact that philosophers have looked for one for thousands of years, and religious leaders have often claimed to know the answer. I think this is something you work out for yourself gradually, through lots of trial-and-error, and over the course of your life. I still don’t know the best way to acquire my own happiness, let alone other people’s, but I think I know more than I used to, and I’m sure I’ll learn more in the future – it’s all part of developing your character.
Matt Schneeweiss, The Stoic Jew Podcast
To answer this question, let us differentiate between what I call “happiness with a lower-case h” and “Happiness with an upper-case H.” The former, which many (if not most) people seek, refers to a never-ending quest to maximize the intensity and frequency of pleasurable experiences; the latter refers to a state of contentedness with whatever circumstances come their way. Whereas the pursuit of “happiness” leads to a life filled with ups and downs which are highly dependent on circumstances beyond our control, the cultivation of “Happiness” results in an emotional “even keel” that is free from the type of emotional conflict that comes from having one’s desires frustrated and unfulfilled. If a person aims to satisfy their physical, psychological, and intellectual needs in a harmonious manner from this mentality of “Happiness,” then they will live the most enjoyable life possible.
Miriam Kosman, Author
By totally crossing it off your list of things you want to acquire. Live a life of meaning and purpose, become the kind of person that you admire, and strive to express your Divine Image, and a deep visceral happiness will follow. Making happiness one’s goal—by definition—presupposes a superficial life because meaning will always have to play second fiddle.
Paul Franks, Yale University
John Stuart Mill was taught to ask this question by his mentor, Jeremy Bentham, and by his father, James Mill, Bentham’s disciple. After undergoing an education uniquely directed towards the acquisition of happiness and the advocacy of utilitarian philosophy, John Stuart Mill discovered that he was miserable. An important lesson learned by Mill was that asking yourself repeatedly whether you are happy is a recipe for misery! Instead, you should find a project that you consider valuable as an end in itself and not as a means to anything else—including happiness—preferably a project that you can share with friends, whose friendship and conversation will multiply your own sense of fulfillment.
Grant Maxwell, Author
I don’t think happiness is something that can be acquired and kept like an object. Real happiness is found in purpose, whether in relation to career, family, or community, and this emotion must be actively cultivated. One can’t be happy all of the time, as the various emotions that constantly inform our lived experience are the necessary expressions of the powers and forces that constitute our individuality. Purpose provides a deeper kind of fulfillment that can carry one through the inevitable ups and downs of life.