How My Ethics Class Taught Me True Happiness

“Quality is not an act, it is a habit” (Aristotle).

A year ago I was in a 300 level Philosophy/Ethics class. We talked frequently regarding Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and those are just the common Philosopher names most people recognize.

The course went in depth talking about many Philosopher’s different views of how the world works in regard to human happiness. There was many chances to see one of the Philosopher’s perspectives and adopting it as the one you choose to follow.

I learned a great amount in the course and saw many viewpoints that I would not have been exposed to had I listened to the normal way that everyone misperceives happiness.

One of the things we talked about was Stoicism and I chose to adopt a lot of their ways of thinking. Some of their principles included knowledge being able to be obtained through reason, a counter to many of Aristotle’s perspectives.


Happiness Can Be Measured And Should Be Measured

A good example my professor talked about in regards to their logic in finding knowledge and happiness is the use of a lottery ticket example.

Let’s assume you buy a lottery ticket and, as expected, get none of the numbers and result in a loss of $2. That’s not to say you haven’t traded $2 for a bit of happiness you find yourself with when you indulge in participating in the lottery.

Sure you would be a lot happier if you had won (assuming you believe money does buy happiness). But although the trade may seem like a complete loss of $2, it may not be.

Occasionally we treat ourselves to fast food or some other meal that we don’t have to have, but thoroughly enjoy.

We pay $10 for a Chick-Fil-A meal because even though we are paying for food which we need, we could have just made a plate of pasta or a few cups of ramen noodles for essentially $2 or less.

What we are doing is paying for happiness, and that’s not unethical or even illogical.

If we find a little bit of happiness in spending more for something, even if when we are done with it, it is gone, why would buying a lottery ticket for the excitement, build up, and thrill of hearing the numbers read off be any different?

If a $2 lottery ticket brings me 5 temporary theoretical happiness points, that is beneficial because a loss of $2 for those 5 points to me are worth it.

The $10 meal brings me 8 happiness points whereas something cheap, even if given off the same effect in the end, will bring me more happiness than if I had chosen not to spend the $10 I had on a meal.

Now you might be saying to yourself, “OK so you’re basically telling me to do cocaine or whatever can bring me quick happiness.” And you should have already figured, there is the other side to the happiness points, the negative.

You can run into a catastrophic chain of bad events making your happiness points drop way below 0. Doing something quickly rewarding like cocaine would eventually start to hurt you and place you in the negative because of the terrible effects it has on your mental health and overall health.

There’s always a trade whether it be real life currency or trading happiness you might have tomorrow.

If you think about it, a lot of this does make sense and follows logic pretty well.

One last example before we move on.

Say you’re having a really bad day such as your pet has just passed away or you got laid off of work. You’re well into the negatives for that day, but say you do what we said earlier and trade $10 for that meal that gives you a little bit of happiness.

You expect to still be sad but get that tiny tiny boost in feeling better because you’re trying to cheer yourself up. In bad times we try and do what we normally would do because our everyday life does revolve around rewarding ourselves and attempting to gain happiness points.

If you try this and go throughout your day noticing what makes you happy and what makes you sad, you’ll see you’re making a conscious effort to obtain happiness whether it be a small amount now or sacrificing some today for a bigger amount tomorrow.


The Math In Happiness

To reiterate what I’m saying, you may or may not choose to let something effect your emotions in a positive or negative way (as the stoics view it with the acknowledgement of these emotions can occasionally be avoided). But that is beyond the point.

If happiness points do exist, and potentially in our brain they do, then it could be necessary to better our overall lives by working the math and seeing how many happiness points we can build up.

Maybe happiness points are dopamine in our brain and maybe you’ve already seen that possible connection.

That’s not to say we are slaves to our brains, but more so that we train ourselves to work toward happiness and allowing ourselves to move on that path is necessary.

“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties” (Helen Keller).

Too many times people sacrifice much more happiness thinking they will receive bigger amounts later such as taking a job they hate just for the extra spending money later on.

It’s still necessary to take into account that happiness points can be non-exponential and expecting more happiness from ample amounts of work may not be what we should strive for. Immediate happiness is not always necessary either.

What we learned that there was a connection with through all aspects of Philosophy and almost all Philosophers agreed on, is there is a medium we need to work toward.

Aristotle mentions it as the many different virtues involved in the Nicomachean Ethics, that there are vices to the virtues. If courage is a virtue we need to work toward, the deficiency would be fear while the excess is rashness.

If you are to work toward happiness, take into account throughout the day, where you stand, where you want to stand, and what needs to be traded and for what.

Happiness may or may not be measurable, but to you it is and only you know what needs to be done to bring you the most happiness. Don’t look for it in places it doesn’t exist, find out how you are already experiencing happiness and work to maintain that.

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