Letters to the Editor, Opinions

Letter: Happiness doesn’t cut it

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Friday, March 23, 2018

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to the March 22 Herald column “The Pursuit of Happiness” by James Flynn ’20. I believe that Flynn’s opinion — that “understanding the complexities of happiness is paramount for Brown students” — is flawed. That is, all people — but especially college students — should strive toward much more than happiness as an end goal.

That Aristotle’s definition of happiness differs greatly from ours is no coincidence: The modern sense of “happiness” is a much more shallow, ethereal and confused notion than the original eudaimonia. Flynn writes that modern happiness is understood as “subjective well-being,” “pleasant emotions” and “high life satisfaction” — fleeting and superficial manifestations that are highly conditional on circumstance, opportunity and privilege.

But Aristotle knew better. His dedication to philosophy — philosophia, the love of wisdom — arose from a point of departure with the modern definition of happiness. Recognizing that there are different means to achieve “subjective well-being,” Aristotle sought eudaimon, the highest good of all. Eudaimon is the integration of ergon, which he defines as human “function,” with reason and virtue — something that looks a lot closer to meaning and purpose than to happiness. 

Modern sensibilities approach the idea of “highest goods” and “universal ideals” with suspicion, and rightly so. But under systems that so often disappoint, damage and dehumanize, in a political landscape characterized by fear and hatred — in short, in a world in which suffering still runs rampant — I know that I require more than eight hours of sleep to weather the storm. 

Adam Mercier ’19