Aristotelians are the best-known example: they take well-being () to consist in a life of virtuous activity—or more broadly, the fulfillment of our human capacities.A passive but contented couch potato may be getting what he wants, and he may enjoy it.
Just as inquiry about pleasure or depression fundamentally concerns questions of psychology, inquiry about happiness in this sense—call it the (long-term) “psychological sense”—is fundamentally the study of certain mental states. Typical answers to this question include life satisfaction, pleasure, or a positive emotional condition.
Having answered that question, a further question arises: how is this mental state?
But he would not, on Aristotelian and other objective list theories, count as doing well, or leading a happy life.
Now we can sharpen the initial question somewhat: when you ask what happiness is, are you asking what sort of life a person?
Theories of well-being—and hence of “happiness” in the well-being sense—come in three basic flavors, according to the best-known taxonomy (Parfit 1984): hedonism, desire theories, and objective list theories.
Whereas hedonists identify well-being roughly with experiences of pleasure, desire theorists equate it with the satisfaction of one's desires— getting what you want, versus merely having certain experiences.In the second case, our subject matter is a kind of .(For further discussion, see the entry on well-being.Ill-being, or doing badly, may call for sympathy or pity, whereas we envy or rejoice in the good fortune of others, and feel gratitude for our own. Not coincidentally, the word ‘happiness’ derives from the term for good fortune, or “good hap,” and indeed the terms used to translate it in other languages have similar roots.In this sense of the term—call it the “well-being sense”—happiness refers to a life of well-being or flourishing: a life that goes well for you.Yet we can't answer that question until we have some notion of what we mean by the word.Philosophers who write about “happiness” typically take their subject matter to be either of two things, each corresponding to a different sense of the term: In the first case our concern is simply a psychological matter.Yet the significance of happiness for a good life has been hotly disputed in recent decades.Further questions of contemporary interest concern the relation between the philosophy and science of happiness, as well as the role of happiness in social and political decision-making. Is it pleasure, a life of prosperity, something else?Since ‘happiness’ in this sense is just a psychological term, you could intelligibly say that happiness isn't valuable at all.Perhaps you are a high-achieving intellectual who thinks that only ignoramuses can be happy.