How Can We Find Happiness?

What Aristotle can teach us

Shefali O'Hara


Aristotle in the Lyceaum; source:

I have been thinking more about the nature of life lately. Part of this is due to my fighting stage IV cancer, which has me grappling with issues of life and death late. Part of it is simply my own natural proclivities. I am someone who can happily spend time wondering how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, for example.

I can also get easily distracted because I have a wide range of interests — which is probably reflected in my articles on Medium. Perhaps that is one reason I was drawn to Aristotle.

Who was he? Born in Greece in 384 BC, he was a writer, teacher, and philosopher. His interests included not just philosophy, but also natural science, economics, politics, math, logic, linguistics, the arts, and psychology. He is the founder of the Aristotelian tradition. He learned from Plato and taught Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great; source:

His views shaped Catholic and Islamic scholarship and was the one of the main drivers of Western thought until the Enlightenment despite only a third of his works suriving.

While reading about him, I came across concepts that I find useful even in the modern era. In this article, I turn to his ideas on happiness.

In Nicomachean Ethics, he says:

…the function of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.

From this we can see that Aristotle saw a link between happiness and virtue. He believed that in order to achieve true happiness, one must have a good moral character. And furthermore, virtue was not a passive state but must be an active state in order to be meaningful.

In this regard, his philosophy fits in with my own understanding as a Christian even though Aristotle was not religious. He certainly did not believe in the



Shefali O'Hara

Cancer survivor, writer, engineer. BSEE from MIT, MSEE, and MA in history. Love nature, animals, books, art, and interesting discussions.