Each individual has his or her own perception of happiness. The definition of happiness depends on the standards that people set for themselves, for others, and for the world. Nevertheless, happiness is people’s highest goal. Thus, their efforts and passion are rooted in their desire to be happy. Happiness has also been related to the words “successful” and “fulfilled,” but, what does it mean to be truly fulfilled and happy? If happiness is humans’ highest craving, then one must seek insights on how to be happy.
Hence, early philosophers like Plato and Aristotle attempted to define happiness. Both claim that happiness is a choice, and it can be achieved by living a good life. However, both presented different views on what constitutes happiness and a good life. In their journey to know the real meaning of happiness, Aristotle and Plato started questioning what exactly constitutes a happy life. Happiness for Aristotle is a choice, and it starts within. It is not something that happens or comes to a person from without; rather, happiness is rooted in human choices.
Human choices according to Aristotle stem from virtues. The ability to reason or to know and to contemplate the truth will make a person acquire virtue. Since man is gifted with rational soul, then a “man’s highest aim is the activity of the soul in conformity with reason” (“Plato and Aristotle”). Aristotle motivates people to seek the truth that comes from the right virtue of reasoning. Although man is not born virtuous, he is born with senses, and senses must be used and utilized for a human person to learn. According to Aristotle, learning takes time.
Thus, the acquired virtue should be practiced habitually. After several years of learning, Aristotle claims that a person who lives a virtuous life habitually will achieve and complete a perfect life. A good man is one who reasons well and eventually chooses well. Plato shares the same concept with Aristotle that a person, in order to be happy, must choose to act according to his reason and knowledge. Basically, both believe that men as rational beings have the choice to act according to their will. Virtue leads to happiness, and man should act according to this knowledge.
To be happy, both philosophers believe that one must perfect the mind and character from virtues through continuous and habitual practice. However, Aristotle sees happiness as more than a virtue: “Nature is human nature as a whole. This is both rational and sensuous. His treatment of happiness is in closer contact with experience than that of Plato” (Maher). In addition, Aristotle believes that happiness does not only depend upon virtue but also upon pleasure, wealth, and leisure. On the other hand, Plato views happiness as a path and as direction.
Plato affirms that in attaining happiness, one must exhibit love and lack of desire. Happiness will automatically occur when one arrives at a mystical understanding of the world. Human reasoning, after all, is rooted from spiritual element. One must realize that the nature of goodness is innate, and when this nature is revealed, he or she will consequentially be happy. Thus, it appears that Plato’s view of attaining happiness is more metaphysical than Aristotle’s, while Aristotle’s view is more realistic than Plato’s.
Aristotle acknowledges men’s desire to be happy according to the satisfaction of senses so as long as it will not contradict virtue. As Aristotle believes that the soul does not survive after death, people should strive to be happy while they are still alive. On the other hand, Plato claims that true happiness is achieved only in the performance of one’s own duty, especially the duty of exercising justice as the highest form of virtue. (“Plato and Aristotle”). Thus, in Plato’s view of happiness, individual happiness is sacrificed for the good of the community. This idea was rejected by Aristotle, as he believes in individual happiness.