Aristotle and Happiness

by Charles Debelak

Aristotle taught that it is within most people’s power to become subjectively happy. Subjective happiness, Aristotle explained, is the result of good character. Aristotle believed that if you train yourself to be good, by working on your virtues and controlling your vices, you will discover that a happy state of mind comes from habitually doing the right thing. “Happiness comes as a result of  goodness, along with a learning process, and effort.”

I find Aristotle’s teaching helpful to those of us concerned about the development of children. While Aristotle, in his writings, does not neglect the need for financial security or the development of individual talents, he recognizes that these alone will not result in subjective happiness. They will not result in the type of happiness and life satisfaction that transcends the things we own or the achievements we’ve attained. 

This says to me, that while parents and teachers give children a great education to assure their future financial capacity and professional status, we cannot neglect a “process and effort” to sow seeds of goodness in children, habituating good behavior to become good character. Our attention and determination to nurture good character requires as much energy and effort as helping children to become readers, writers, and mathematicians. I believe I speak for all parents and educators when I say we want our children and students to live “happy” lives grounded in becoming good people. 

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This article was written by Birchwood’s Head of School Charles Debelak to provide parents with information about sound educational principles and child development issues gleaned from history, contemporary research, and his 50+ years of educating, coaching, and counseling children, young adults, and parents.