Humans, throughout recorded history, have searched for a proper way of living which would lead them to ultimate happiness; the Nicomachean Ethics, a compilation of lecture notes on the subject written by Greek philosopher Aristotle, is one of the most celebrated philosophical works dedicated to this study of the way. As he describes it, happiness can only be achieved by acting in conformity with virtues, virtues being established by a particular culture’s ideal person operating at their top capacity. In our current society the duplicity of standards in relation to virtue makes it difficult for anyone to attain. To discover true happiness, man must first discover himself.
Physiologically, happiness is activity of the mind, predominantly in the left prefrontal cortex, anterior cortex, and the amygdale. Recent studies made possible by scanning systems such as MRIs and Positron Emission Tomography show that when an individual experiences feelings of ...view middle of the document...
Different virtues are taught or ignored. Standards in a particular culture may be more or less firm in respect to others, or conflict directly with each other. For example, to be considered good in today’s culture, one is expected to concern themselves with current trends while remaining original. Women are expected to be gentle and beautiful, but are looked down upon in the workplace if they don’t display masculine qualities. Almost every action in today’s western culture has a double standard; if we are to be truly happy and must be active in conformation with virtue, it is essential to discover the greater virtue, which for many is nearly impossible. Each individual determines what kind of conduct is acceptable through societal conditioning achieved through personal experience. This very personalized path demonstrates that there is no true way to happiness that is the same for each individual.
The only way in which one can discover their way to happiness by learning the virtues which are expected of them by society is putting them into practice. Aristotle puts great emphasis on the action and less on the knowledge of the action. Many people, particularly the young in Aristotle’s opinion, since they have less experience in their world will attempt to appeal to the multiple virtues that conflict with each other as they are presented to them. The mark of a wise man of experience is the ability to determine that which is good for him. Once one is able to discover the societal virtue corresponding to their particular nature and is able to pursue that which makes them active of mind and body in conformity with this relative virtue, they can be truly happy.
The struggle of life is finding out exactly what makes you happy and how it is best to pursue that activity in your own culture. Aristotle’s definition of happiness is valid, but is only attainable in ancient Greek culture, as their virtues correspond to the culture’s values. In order to attain happiness in our own culture we would have to discover through experience that which contributes most to an activity of the mind in conformance with the societal virtue which corresponds best with our individual nature. To discover true happiness, man must first discover himself.