A history of happiness

Is being published by one Darrin McMahon, author of this recent NYT article taking advantage of Christmas madness to pontificate on the subject.  Since morality is about the good life, and the good life is usually defined in terms of happiness, this blog is somewhat obliquely concerned with happiness (see, for example, here and here).  But I have always understood the word as did Thomas Jefferson:  happiness is the life of virtue.

This belief, which historically was the most accepted until two centuries or so ago, is overlooked by McMahon in his piece.  But he does provide a good quote from (of all people) John Stuart Mill:

“Those only are happy,” he came to believe, “who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.”

Overlook that “improvement of mankind” bit, which is Victorian moonshine, and Mill has it right.  To the extent that one can rejoice in the triumphs and achievements of others, one will lead a good and happy life.

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