Happiness is a durable state of fullness, satisfaction or serenity, a pleasant and balanced state of mind and body, from which suffering, stress, worry and trouble are absent. Happiness is not only a passing state of pleasure, of joy, it represents a state of equilibrium that lasts in time. It is a concept that has been studied in psychology, sociology and philosophy. Most Western philosophical currents succeeding Socrates are eudemonisms, these doctrines aiming at achieving happiness. This search for individual happiness in philosophy is further strengthened significantly with the advent of epicureanism and stoicism.
Happiness and pleasure are two confusing notions. Pleasure is a form of satisfaction, but it is a satisfaction understood as more limited and more punctual. This fleeting and ephemeral nature of pleasure has often been pointed out by certain moralist philosophers, as if the quest for pleasure was necessarily a quest whose satisfaction was limited by the very nature of its object. Happiness, on the other hand, is a state characterized by its durability and stability, and denotes a complete well-being of the body and the mind, while the pleasure more often concerns the body.
The Western philosophical tradition opposes the optimists, for whom happiness as a “state of total satisfaction” is possible (Spinoza, Montaigne, Diderot), even easy (Epicure) and the pessimists, for whom it is difficult (Rousseau, Pascal), even impossible (Schopenhauer, Freud). Others, like Kant, oppose the search for happiness and the realization of the moral law: one can not seek to be happy by following the moral law; nevertheless, one can not speak of a condemnation of the search for happiness. Nietzsche criticizes him as a flight from the tragedy of reality, preferring the experience of joy.
According to Epicurus, happiness has two sides: a negative side which corresponds to the absence or diminution of suffering and a positive side which concerns the satisfaction of natural and necessary desires. Happiness is conditioned by pleasure (epicureanism) and consists in living a virtuous life. The absence of disorders of the body (aponia) and of the mind (ataraxia) arises from the satisfaction of the natural and necessary desires, the most important of which are safety, health, wisdom and friendship. The most famous text of Epicurus, which illustrates his conception of pleasure and happiness, is Letter to Mneceum:
“We must realize that among our desires, some are natural, others are vain, and that among the first there are some that are necessary and others that are only natural. Among the necessary, there are those who are for happiness, others for the tranquility of the body, others for life itself. (…) When, then, we say that pleasure is our ultimate goal, we do not mean the pleasures of the debauchees or those connected with material enjoyment, as people who are ignorant of our doctrine say, or who disagree with it, or interpret it in a bad way. The pleasure we have in view is characterized by the absence of bodily suffering and disturbances of the soul. It is not the continual drinking and orgy, the enjoyment of young boys and women, the fish and other dishes offered by a luxurious table, which engender a happy life, but the vigilant reason which painstakingly seeks the motives of what to choose and of what to avoid, and which rejects the vain opinions by which the greatest trouble seizes souls. Of all this, wisdom is the principle and the greatest of goods. That is why it is itself more precious than philosophy because it is the source of all the other virtues since it teaches us that one can not be happy without being wise, honest and just without being happy. The virtues, indeed, are one with the happy life and this one is inseparable from them.”
– Epicurus, Letter to Meneceus
Translated by Wikipedia