In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle stated that the goal of life is happiness (in the original, eudiamonia), but for him the term meant something different than what it does for us.  In a helpful essay available on the web here Ian Johnson describes eudiamonia as having the sense of being successful at life or living well.  For Aristotle, living well means to live virtuously, which in turn means to live in accord with the function or purpose of human beings.  Everything, whether alive or not, has a particular function, and its worth consists in showing excellence in that function. For Aristotle, the proper function of humans “consists in an activity of the soul in conformity with a rational principle.” (1098a)  To show excellence in the function that is proper to humans is to show virtue; thus, Aristotle indicates that “happiness is a certain activity of the soul in conformity with perfect virtue.” 


So, in Aristotle’s view, the person who had a sense of well-being but was not virtuous would not be happy.  The concept of  eudiamonia refers to happiness that grows out of living properly, of living the sort of life that is consistent with our makeup as humans.  As such, it is a life of engagement in meaningful activity, the sort of life that is not only pleasant but deeply satisfying.


As noted in my previous post, Daniel Nettles argues that we shouldn’t use the term happiness in this sense because it imports a moral element into the term.  But why shouldn’t there be some such element?  When people say, “I want to be happy,”  do they really just mean that they want to have a reasonably high frequency of positive moods throughout their lives?  Don’t they also mean at least in part that they want to be able to evaluate their lives as meaningful and fulfilling?  I think they do, and so include eudiamonia as part of my understanding of happiness.