Humanities through the Arts
April 24, 2013
The Pursuit of Happiness
What is happiness? What is virtue? Although these two things are important to us, we probably have not put much though into why. Most people would agree that happiness is something everyone wants or a state of being. Virtues are part of our character and encompass such things as loyalty, courage, truth, and integrity and are also an essential part of who we are. When we congratulate each other on an important event in our lives, an indispensable component of our wishes is happiness. We all have our own understanding of happiness. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary (2013), one of the definitions of happiness is “a pleasurable or satisfying experience”. For some people satisfaction comes with money, for others with a good grade or a well done job. Happiness and virtue are key components in human nature and something we all naturally strive for; however, because we are all unique each of us will strive for these in a different way.
The desire to be happy is a universal and natural part of human nature. Every person has his or her own unique definition of what happiness means. Each person has their own desires, wishes, thoughts, emotions and dreams. Even with all the different thoughts/ideas about happiness you can still attain it. If you want your life to be filled with happiness, then the first thing which you must do is to decide what happiness means to you.
To Aristotle happiness is the ultimate purpose of human existence. According to Aristotle, happiness consists in achieving, through the course of a whole lifetime all the goods-health, wealth, knowledge, friends, etc...-that lead to the perfection of human nature and the enrichment of human life. This requires us to make choices, some of which may be very difficult. Often the lesser good promises immediate pleasure and are more tempting, while the greater good is painful and requires some sort of sacrifice. For example, it may be easier and more enjoyable to spend the night watching television, but you know that you will be better off if you spend it researching for your term paper.
In our book, The Art of Being Human, they define Aristotle’s view on happiness as, happiness is not a moment-to-moment experiencing of pleasurable things but away of characterizing how one’s life is being conducted. In other words life can be good, hence happy, even though you are not always aware of it. It is easy to see that we desire money, pleasure, and honor only because we believe that these goods will make us happy. It seems that all other goods are means towards obtaining happiness, while happiness is always an end in itself.
For Aristotle, friendship is one of the most important virtues in achieving the goal of happiness. A virtuous friendship is one that is most enjoyable since it combines pleasure and virtue together, thus fulfilling our emotional and intellectual natures. One painting that comes to mind when I think of this is Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. This is a series of paintings that Van Gogh was most proud of. It was painted during a rare period of excited optimism, while Van Gogh awaited the arrival of his hero, the avant-garde painter Paul Gauguin (nationalgallery.org). Van Gogh was a Dutch post-impressionist painter whose work, notable for its rough beauty, emotional honesty and bold color, had a far-reaching influence on 20th century art. Sunflowers had a special significance for Van Gogh. Yellow, for him was an emblem of happiness-in Dutch literature, the sunflower was a symbol of devotion and loyalty (nationalgallery.org). The most famous in the series, and my favorite, is the yellow on yellow. The painting is of yellow flowers in a yellow vase on a yellow table and the walls are also yellow. You think that it would be very bland but it is bright and bold. All his paintings of the sunflowers are bright,...
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