Peter Koritansky lectures to students that finding and maintaining true happinness is not as easy or simple as people think. Top CNS photo/ Jerry L. Mennenga.

Happiness: a misguided search

By  Clare Bekkers, Youth Speak News
  • November 21, 2014

ANTIGONISH, N.S. - Happiness is different than joy or pleasure, said Peter Koritansky, calling it a misunderstood emotion. 

Koritansky, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, visited Nova Scotia’s St. Francis Xavier University on Nov. 14 to speak to students about Morality and the Pursuit of Happiness. His public lecture on “eudaimonia,” the Greek term for happiness, explored the idea of satisfying the personal desire to be happy. 

Many students would agree they search everywhere for a sense of happiness — at parties, in the classroom, in daily experiences. But Koritansky challenged his audience on what it means to be truly happy. 

Koritansky said the idea of happiness has become displaced, often confused with other emotions. 

“Happiness is distinct from joy or pleasure,” he said before quoting Thomas Aquinas, who explained that pleasure and joy are merely red herrings that distract us from knowing the nature of true happiness. Instead of joy being the root of happiness, it is in reality the “possession of (happiness that) is the cause of rejoicing,” said Aquinas. 

Koritansky went on to explain that we not only have to be happy, but good at the same time. To be good is to be virtuous which is a “necessary condition for happiness.” Acting virtuously, simply put, is behaving in line with high moral standards. He remarked that acting virtuously not only leads us to be happy but also causes a “personal flourishing (and) may be recommended to us for their social utility.” 

However, being good is not a sufficient method to reaching true happiness. Prevalent today is a selfish happiness that is rooted in the idea that we must fulfill our duties to ourselves before others. 

“What matters (to people today) is not pursuing happiness,” said Koritansky, “but maximizing it.” He went on to say that “those who make self love a matter of reproach ascribe to it those who award the biggest share of money, honours and bodily pleasure to themselves. For these are goods desired and pursued by the many on the assumption that they are best.” But this is not a virtuous way to live. 

A huge part of a students’ happiness is in the friendships they form, said Koritansky, but caution should be practised when befriending people. He adds that it is important to understand the “(distinction) between genuine or virtuous friendship and the pseudo-friendships based on pleasure or utility… (for) virtuous friendship involve(s) the love of one’s friend for his or her own sake.” This means that “Friday night friends” are only allowing for short-lived happiness, not a lasting, true happiness. 

Koritansky concluded that the only way to understand what it means to be truly happy is to study philosophy. 

“The reason to live morally, we are given to understand, is that morality, rightly conceived, is nothing more than the kind of life one must lead in order to philosophize and pursue the good in the most unfettered way possible,” he said. 

To Koritansky, philosophy is the only source that offers answers to what it means to be happy. Yet, this poses an intellectual problem: If philosophy is the only means to lead someone to true happiness, then how can those who do not study philosophy be happy? 

Brandan Tran, a fourth-year Philosophy student at St. Francis Xavier University and Vice-President of the Socratic Circle (StFX Philosophy Society), offered a comprehensive explanation to this question. He suggested that an individual can practise philosophy in the pursuit of happiness even if they cannot show detailed proof. 

“We’d say that although not everybody can do the philosophy that shows explicitly the framework of eudaimonia, they can still practise it. (It’s) like how construction workers can make a beautiful building without being engineers,” Tran said. 

Pursuing happiness is not something that can easily be accomplished. But it is something everyone wants. As Koritansky concluded, “You can be moral without being a philosopher. But you must understand the reason for acting (the way you should) in a philosophical sense. Or else one’s own happiness will always be somewhat arbitrary.” 

(Bekkers, 20, is a third-year English student at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.) 

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