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The pursuit of happiness

The pursuit of happiness

By Al Gini
Professor of Business Ethics
Chair of the Department of Management

As a society, we seem obsessed with the quest for happiness. Go online or into any bookstore, and you will find hundreds of quick-fix self-help books dedicated to finding and acquiring happiness. Most, but not all, suggest that happiness is a particular physical thing. That is, just lose weight or run 10 miles a day or switch to a vegan diet or do hot yoga, and all will be well. Other texts argue for more cerebral endeavors such as meditation or psychoanalysis or biblical studies.

Of course, beyond the self-help texts, the predominant message of our modern consumer society is that happiness is a thing or an experience that can be purchased or possessed. In a consumer society, we are what we possess; and, the more we possess and the quality of our possessions determine both our status in society and our personal level of happiness. And ultimate happiness in a consumer society is “being able to want and get that which we don’t yet have!”

After much reflection, I am convinced of only two things: happiness is a process, and happiness is made up of many different elements. Process: I think Aristotle was right when he said, “Never judge a person happy until they are dead.” For Aristotle, happiness was not an all-or-nothing state of affairs; it’s a continuum, a living event. Happiness has to be judged in the aggregate and not on any individual moment. Money is not the defining factor, but it is a necessary ingredient. So, too, is health, friendship, meaningful work, love, etc. Each one is critical, but each individually may not necessarily be enough.

Added to all of this are three vital factors. One: there is no single “recipe” that works for everyone. Two: happiness only comes to those who know when to be satisfied. Three: an obsession with happiness thwarts the actual achievement of it.

The moral to this essay is a modest one: seek happiness, but proceed cautiously!

This article appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Loyola Magazine. Read more →