Aristotle on Happiness – What Was His View?

One of the most important aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy is his thoughts on happiness. In his timeless book Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses what happiness is and how we can achieve it.  

There are many things to consider when trying to achieve happiness, such as our nature and obstacles standing in our way. Let’s take a look at what Aristotle thought about happiness and how we can learn from his views.  

What Were Aristotle’s Views on Happiness? 

Aristotle has a lot to say about what happiness is and how we can achieve it. He believed that happiness is the ultimate goal of human existence. Happiness is not something we can find outside ourselves but rather something we must create within ourselves. This means that our own actions and choices play a significant role in whether or not we are happy.  

Aristotle stated that in order to be truly happy, we must live a life of virtue. This means living according to reason and being excellent in all we do. When we live virtuously, we reach our full potential as human beings and become the best versions of ourselves. This is what brings us true happiness. 

When we live virtuously, we build solid and healthy relationships with other people. Aristotle emphasized the importance of friendships and relationships, to the point where he stated, “Friendship seems to hold states together”. These aspects make us become better people, making us more likely to be happy.  

How to Achieve Happiness in Our Lives 

aristotle statue

There are two main things that Aristotle says we need to do in order to be happy: develop our virtues and cultivate strong relationships with other people. 

Aristotle believed that there are particular virtues that all human beings should strive to develop, including courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. 

In addition to developing our own virtues, Aristotle also believed that it is essential for us to cultivate strong relationships with other people. He outlined that there are three kinds of friendships – friendships of utility (what people can do for one another), friendships of pleasure (relationships based on shared activities and temporal pleasures), and finally, friendships of virtue (the people that you like for who they are because they make you a better person and bring joy into your life).   

Are There Any Obstacles to Achieving Happiness

Aristotle believed there are two main obstacles to happiness: Lack of self-control and weakness of will. 

Lack of self-control means that we are not in control of our own lives. We allow ourselves to be controlled by our emotions and desires instead of living in accordance with reason. This can lead us to make bad decisions that make us unhappy. 

Weakness of will is when we know what the right thing to do is, but we don’t do it anyway. We might procrastinate or give into temptation even though we know it’s not good for us. This can also lead to unhappiness. 

You also need to be careful of what you pursue in life. Aristotle believed that there are two types of desires: Natural and unnatural. Natural desires are things like food, shelter, and clothing. These are things that we need in order to survive. Unnatural desires are things like power, wealth, and fame. We don’t need these to survive, but we often pursue them anyway. 

Unnatural desires can never be satisfied because there is no limit to how much power, wealth, and fame we can have. We will always want more, but we can never really be happy if our happiness depends on these things. That’s why Aristotle says that the key to happiness is to focus on natural desires instead of unnatural ones. 

What Are the Benefits of Living a Happy Life?

Aristotle believed that there are many benefits to living a happy life. He thought that happiness was the key to a good life and that it led to other important things like virtue, friendship, and contemplation. Aristotle also believed that happy people were more likely to be productive citizens and better at making decisions. 

There are a lot of things we can learn from Aristotle about happiness. One of the most important is that it’s not just about feeling good all the time (although that’s definitely part of it!). Happiness is also about leading a meaningful and fulfilling life. It’s about having deep relationships, engaging in work or hobbies you enjoy, and feeling like you’re doing something worthwhile with your life.  

If you can be happy or comforted in knowing that you’re going to be sad or broken some days of your life, Aristotle would say you’re well on your way to leading a happy life. 

Aristotle’s View of Happiness vs. Other Views

happiness in a woman

Aristotle’s view of happiness is unique in several ways.  

  • First, Aristotle believed that happiness is not merely a state of pleasure or contentment but an activity or condition of the soul that is achieved through fulfilling our human potential. In other words, according to Aristotle, happiness is something we must actively pursue and is not simply a passive emotion or feeling.  
  • Second, Aristotle believed that happiness is the highest good for human beings and should be our ultimate goal in life. This contrasts with many other views of happiness, suggesting that other things, such as wealth, power, or fame, are more important than happiness itself.  
  • Finally, Aristotle’s view of happiness also differs from others in that he believed it to be attainable by all people regardless of their circumstances. This contrasts with many other theories of happiness, suggesting that only certain people can achieve happiness due to their privileged position. 

Aristotle’s idea is much more attainable and realistic than other views of happiness. It does not suggest that happiness is something that only a select few can achieve, but instead believed that everyone has the potential to be happy if they put in the effort. Additionally, Aristotle’s view of happiness emphasizes the importance of leading a virtuous and moral life, which many other views of happiness do not consider as necessary. 

For example, the view that happiness is simply a state of pleasure or contentment fails to consider the importance of leading a virtuous and moral life. Aristotle believed that it is only through leading such a life that we can truly achieve happiness. This is because he thought virtue and morality are essential to attaining our human potential and fulfilling our life purpose. 

Aristotle’s view of happiness is thus much more nuanced and complex than other views, but it is also much more attainable and realistic. His belief that everyone has the potential to be happy regardless of their circumstances makes his philosophy much more applicable to real life than other views, which suggest that only certain people can be happy. Additionally, his importance of virtue and morality makes his view of happiness much more virtuous than others. 

Downsides to Pursuing Happiness 

happiness with friends

There are a few potential downsides to pursuing happiness, as Aristotle recognized. 

  • First, pursuing happiness can sometimes lead us to neglect other important things in our lives. For example, if we focus too much on our happiness, we might neglect our relationships or responsibilities. 
  • Second, the pursuit of happiness can sometimes be difficult and require hard work. Aristotle believed that happy people were more likely to be productive citizens and better at making decisions, but he also recognized that achieving this level of happiness takes effort. 
  • Finally, the pursuit of happiness can sometimes be elusive and seem out of reach. We might chase after things that we think will make us happy only to find that they don’t bring us the satisfaction we expected. For example, if you pursue happiness in shopping, material things, or any short-lived pleasures day in and day out, you may find that you’re never truly satisfied. 

Criticism Against Aristotle’s Philosophy on Happiness 

Some have criticized Aristotle’s philosophy on happiness for being too simplistic. Others have accused him of being egoistic because he seems to focus on the individual’s happiness rather than the common good. 

Despite these criticisms, Aristotle’s philosophy on happiness remains one of the most influential in history. His ideas about eudaimonia (human flourishing) and self-realization continue to resonate with people today. And his insistence that happiness is not something that can be pursued directly but must be lived as a by-product of other activities has been echoed by many later thinkers. 

Wrapping Up 

Happiness is something that we all strive for. Every culture and religion has outlined some principles on how to live a happy life. In today’s world, more than ever, we seem to need guidance on how to find happiness. While Aristotle’s philosophy on happiness may be over 2000 years old, the principles he outlines are still as relevant as ever. Concepts such as virtue, friendships, and doing the right thing are timeless and universal and, when followed, will surely help in improving our lives and maybe make us happier.  



Ankit Sharma