A Philosophical Exploration Of Happiness
by Scott Hughes
The general term happiness refers to the feeling of feeling good, which consists of the various forms of enjoyment or satisfaction. Most people think that they understand happiness, and it seems that they mostly do. Most people can probably tell you whether or not they feel happy. Nonetheless, the idea of happiness becomes very complex and interesting when we look at it from a philosophical perspective. Philosophically speaking, people have many questions about happiness.
Many people wonder why humans get happy and why the feeling exists. We feel happy when we achieve what we want to achieve or while we do what we want to do. Happiness acts as a motivation and reward. It seems like a necessary extension of desire. Without desire, and by extension happiness, we would not do anything. We would not have any will or intention. It would defeat the purpose of consciousness--if consciousness can even exist without desire and happiness. As a result, it seems that our species evolved to feel desire and happiness because those feelings motivate us to take actions that help us survive and reproduce.
In addition to wondering about why humans get happy, many people wonder how happy humans can get and if they can ever achieve a perfect state of happiness. Most people realize that happiness seems elusive, in that humans never seem fully satisfied. Humans can never seem to get all of what they want because they always seem to want more; they always think of something else they want.
The human desire to always want more goes back again to the evolutionary benefit of a motivated creature as opposed to a creature that would settle for less. In other words, the constant desire for improvement has lead to the success of the human species and other similarly conscious animals.
Because our ancestors developed in an environment where it benefited them to have a constant desire to improve and to always want more, we now have 'happiness' which only functions properly in the context of struggle. It would not make us happy to get everything we want. In fact, we could never get everything we want because we want to have a struggle; in a way, we want to NOT have all of what we want. For example, children like to play difficult video games because they want to have goals to achieve, and their happiness requires losing the game multiple times before beating it. And after they beat it, they want to play it on a more difficult level or play a different game. An easy game would make them bored and unhappy.
So happiness as we know it has an intrinsic conflict. And that intrinsic conflict causes the philosophical complexity of happiness. Additionally, I believe that the intrinsic conflict of happiness manifests as the pervasive inner-conflict of humans, which we often call the human condition. That inner-conflict explains why omnipotence would not make a human happy and why too much power and pleasures tend to drive a person insane. Similarly, it explains why technological advancements and increased control over our environment has not made us humans happy and has left us with a feeling of an underlying, emotional voidness. That feeling of emotional voidness motivates our spiritual endeavors. In a way, people have started replacing a defeated primitive struggle with a new spiritual one.
All in all, I think we can best find emotional fulfillment and happiness by finding a healthy way to struggle as individuals and as a society; and we can best do that through self-knowledge and by continuing to philosophically explore the idea of happiness.
Whatever you do, good luck and have fun!
About the author: Scott Hughes maintains an informative website about philosophy
at OnlinePhilosophyClub.com. You can discuss philosophy at the Philosophy Forums
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