There are many paths to happiness.

One of them is stop whining.

Albert Einstein

Philosophical treatise on happiness by Wilhelm Schmid

Many people are concerned with the question of happiness. Not answering the question seems impossible, and not only in modern times. Even in antiquity, philosophers were concerned with this: all people strive for the highest good, according to Aristotle right at the beginning of “Nicomachean Ethics”; and this highest good is happiness. A philosophical art of living that didn’t have anything to say about it would probably have missed the point. But what is happiness?

First of all, like so many things, it’s just a concept. And the term “happiness” in particular can mean very different things, there is no binding, uniform definition. What is meant by this is ultimately determined by the respective individual for himself. Philosophy can only offer assistance, which is something like an explanation of the concept, far from declaring a certain meaning as the only possible one. This allows for each individual’s own clarification in order to answer the question: What does happiness mean to me?

A closer look reveals that there are three levels of luck at play, and it might be useful to keep them separate:

1. Chance luck

The German word “luck” comes from the Old High German gelücke and has a lot to do with fate, which can turn out one way or another. The randomness of this luck characterizes the term in German to this day. In Greek this was once tyche, in Latin fortuna, preserved as fortune, pronounced French or English. The question is open and will probably remain so, whether there are “sensible” coincidences. What is essential about this happiness, however, is its unavailability. Only the attitude that the individual takes in the face of fate and chance is available: he/she can close himself or be open to it. Openness seems to inspire random luck: it likes to stop where it feels it is in good hands and where it doesn’t get reproached.

2. Feel-good happiness

In modern times, the concept of happiness is increasingly defined by the so-called “positive”: by pleasure, by lust, by feeling good, by good feelings. The basic definition of this comes from 18th-century utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham: Happiness is maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. Hardly any other philosophical view has prevailed as this one. The modern fun and adventure society is inconceivable without the pursuit of happiness in this sense. But it would be important not to confuse the whole of life with it, and then be bitterly disappointed if everything is not enjoyable at all times and complete freedom from physical and psychological pain cannot be achieved. Feel-good happiness has its time, it has happy moments ready for which the individual not only keeps himself open, but which he can also prepare himself: moments for the sake of which life is worthwhile and which can be found almost every day.

3. The happiness of abundance

And yet the happiness of eudaimonia and beatitudo in ancient times was something else, more comprehensive and more lasting, actually philosophical happiness, not dependent on mere coincidences and momentary feelings, rather the balance in all polarities of life, not necessarily at the moment, but throughout life: not only success, but also failure; not only success, also failure; not only pleasure, also pain; not only surface, also abyss; not just doing, also not doing; and not only a happiness of well-being, but also an unhappiness. This happiness of abundance is a question of the consciously adopted attitude, it is best expressed in cheerfulness and serenity. None of the levels mentioned, quantum level, emotional level, mental level, is dispensable, but the third happiness above all has to be rediscovered. It’s the only thing that stays.

Wilhelm Schmid (philosopher)