Pursuing Happiness Should Be Our Most Important Goal

A philosopher’s take on the universal pursuit of happiness, and why, perhaps, it’s humanity’s most important goal.

Wei Xiang

--

Photo by Lau keith on Unsplash

It’s quite audacious for anyone to say that happiness should be humanity’s most important pursuit. Obviously, not everyone does things just to make themselves feel happy. Clearly, we suffer, and we find meaning in that suffering. And surely, we’ve been warned so many times about the suffering one experiences on the hedonic treadmill.

Philosophers throughout history have been debating whether happiness is something worth pursuing. It’s a subject of heavy debate in axiology and — in my field of interest — moral philosophy.

In ancient Greek philosophy, Aristotle believed that happiness, what he calls eudaimonia, is the highest good all humankind could and should aspire to attain. Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics further discusses the importance of happiness in one’s moral life. Happiness, Aristotle argues, is what gives our actions meaning.

The 20th century Enlightenment has also given birth to one of our most prominent ethical theories called utilitarianism: the notorious ethical theory that justifies murder and rape if they create a world where more people are happy. Utilitarians will argue that, in the end, what’s most worthy of our pursuit is the collective well-being of humanity.

Christianity, if one thinks through this, centers its theology around eternal happiness. Have faith in Christ, belief in His salvation, and you will be rewarded an eternity in Heaven. Fail, and you will be punished in an eternity of suffering. Thus, the entire pillar of Christianity (and any monotheism) is its promise in the most extreme state of happiness.

Philosophical discourse about happiness isn’t confined to the West. The Analects — the book of classical Confucianism — starts by describing the happiness (delight and pleasure) of learning and friendship. The Analects starts with Confucius telling us about the happiness that comes with learning to be virtuous.

If it still isn’t clear, thousands of years of philosophical wisdom seem to be pointing at one seemingly uncontroversial idea: we should be aiming for

--

--

Wei Xiang

I was once asked about the origins of the universe. So, here I am doing philosophy. Ethics | Intellectual History | Chinese Comparative Philosophy