So far, I have shown that there are three barriers to happiness: instability, mistaken judgment and irrationality. However, a bit of clarification over what happiness is and what it is not will clarify what I am trying to understand. Happiness is not a feeling, a commitment or a kind of pleasure. It may include these things at various time, but happiness is really the ultimate kind of well-being.
We can compare happiness in two ways. The first way is temporal. Sometimes happiness is short and sometimes it is longer. If this is the only difference, then it is like comparing the happiness of eating one chocolate bar with the happiness of eating two chocolate bars. So this sort of difference really says very little about the nature of happiness.
The second way of comparing happiness is by significance. Some kinds of happiness are simply better than others. The happiness gained by friendship is better than the happiness gained by eating chocolate. The happiness gained by learning new things is more significant than what is gained by being famous. We know that these kinds of differences are real for two reasons. The first reason is intuitive. We all rank some things as being better than others. We even judge others if they value certain things wrongly. But this reason is not decisive. The second reason is that happiness must be a kind of good. If happiness is good, then it is either good in itself or it is good because of what it gets us. But either way, kinds of happiness can be ranked by how good they are. If happiness were not good then it could not be worth our attention and no one would be interested in it.
Happiness is an intrinsic good. We know this because happiness can be given as the ultimate reason for an action. The ultimate reason for an action is the reason that does not need a reason. Knowledge and friendship are also these kind of reasons. This also explains why some acts are more significant than others. Friendship and knowledge are both intrinsically good. Eating chocolate and being famous are both instrumentally good – when they are good at all. Since instrumental goods are always good because of intrinsic goods, it is natural that intrinsic goods would be more significant.
This brings out the final problem. Happiness can be found in any act that human beings do. But all of the intrinsically good things that they do are always the most significant. So it seems that happiness is not found in any kind of human action. It is found in all human actions. If the best forms of happiness are found in human beings doing what is intrinsically good, then it seems that happiness is found insofar as human beings do what is ultimately good.
At this point, no clearer statement of happiness can be given. What we can say is that the happiness found in instrumental goods will be found in them only insofar as those goods actually are ultimately good. This also explains why pleasure and commitment are not always what makes us happy. It is possible to find pleasure in evil or be committed to what is evil. Unless what we are choosing to do actually is good, then it will not make us truly happy. This is why we can’t become happy by a sheer act of will. Next, we need to understand desire and rationality.