We’re the Happiest University in the Country; How ’bout about that, Dallas

Howdy y’all, I’m coming back to Dallas this Wednesday for a week and a half! Neal is getting hitched, so I wasn’t about to miss that. ‘Til then, I’ve written one last article for the “Claremont Independent;” tell me what you think.

“The ‘Happiest Campus in the Country’? What Aristotle can tell us about true Happiness” by Christopher Wolfe

For those who have not heard, Claremont McKenna is officially the “Happiest College in the Country.” In a ranking from the Daily Beast website, the Claremont Colleges took four of the top six spots for happiness, with good old Pitzer even coming in at 22. To be called “happy” is serious praise for Claremont, and we should be proud. But before we get too proud, we should ask ourselves: “What does this happiness consist of?” To be honest, the standards that the Daily Beast used to measure our happiness were not what should measure happiness. I would argue that unfortunately, Claremont McKenna is not the happiest college in the country. I say this because of what happiness actually is.
Aristotle offers the best account of what happiness is. The Greek word Aristotle uses for happiness is eudaimonia, which literally means “blessed.” Certainly, this broadest sense of “happiness” could accurately be applied to Claremont. A very large number of the students here are happy with the university, they are satisfied with it. They feel “blessed” to be going to Claremont considering the alternatives. But we should question whether that satisfaction makes our lives truly happy. What Aristotle means when he talks about happiness is the best human life possible, a life “in accordance with the best and most complete activity.” Many have different opinions about what that best life is, but as the argument of Aristotle unfolds, all but one of these alternatives prove incomplete.
Some say that the best life is experiencing the most pleasurable states possible. If this is true, Claremont would have a pretty good claim at happiness. The Daily Beast gave the schools high ratings for quality of food, nightlife, and fair weather; these pleasant circumstances are what really earned Claremont the ranking of “Happiest.” In looking at the faces of people on campus, most do appear joyful, which is certainly an aspect of what it means to be happy. But a happy exterior isn’t everything. We may feel that we are happy, but on reflection, we know that we are not completely happy. As Aristotle says, pleasure is not a self-sufficient end; it is a feeling that accompanies activities that may be high or low. There are some pleasures that should not be pursued — the ones accompanying vicious actions. A happy life is not the one in accordance with the maximum base pleasure; the person who thinks this mistakes being well with doing well materially.
Happiness is life in accordance with the best activity, which Aristotle shows to be contemplation. Incoming students at the Claremont Colleges have exceedingly high test scores, and are smart and engaged in the classroom. Are Claremont students happy, then, because they think more than other students? If a person is “smart,” is this enough to make him happy? Absolutely not. The intellect is more than a simple on-and-off switch that when engaged makes us happy. A way of life, not just an activity, must be embraced. When illicit drug usage, sexually immorality, and “the Vagina Monologues” rule the day in Claremont, no amount of intellectual excellence will be able to overcome these moral failings. A complete life of virtue is required, in which contemplation is the sign or specific difference of happiness.
The best way of life for Aristotle is characterized by contemplation, but not limited to this virtue. The standard for the best life which Aristotle mentions in his Eudemian Ethics is the “noble” life, kalakagathia. The noble life consists of the “whole” of the virtues, the best of the practical and the best of the intellectual, accompanied by appropriate pleasures. Aristotle says that nobility is “whatever mode of choosing and of acquiring things good by nature — whether goods of body or wealth or friends or the other goods — will best promote the contemplation of God, that is the best mode; this is the standard of nobility.” Indeed, nobility is the fulfillment of those qualities of life which of which the Daily Beast’s “happiness” is only a pale and incomplete reflection.
There is one more requirement that Aristotle says is necessary to judge a life to be happy. The life must be “complete,” — that is, the person must be dead. As he says, “one day or a short time does not make a person blessed and happy.” You should now realize that the standard I have adopted from Aristotle concerning happiness makes it impossible to judge any college student to be happy. This is true, at least until that college student’s full life has been lived and can be appraised. However, the standard of nobility is something that a Claremont student can aim at in his choices and activities. Nobility is like a “snapshot” of a whole life, that if continued could be called “happy.” We should aim at nobility, and hopefully a happy life will result.
I would not encourage anyone to stop seeking happiness. If you have joy, do not give it up. At the same time, do not tolerate evil. We should speak the truth in charity, with smiles on our faces. Perhaps the Claremont Independent should publish the “100 Most Noble Colleges in America;” Claremont McKenna would still be on my list.

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4 Responses
  1. Lord Bloch says:

    "We should aim at nobility, and hopefully a happy life will result."

    Is this really how we should see the world? Shouldn't it be the other way around? If we aim at happiness, nobility and goodness will result.

  2. Chelsea says:

    Bold and daring Chris. I like it. I am curious, how will your campus receive the article?

  3. buttercream1 says:

    Lord Bloch: You're right, I didn't put it exactly right. I think that the aim of our lives should be happiness, but in individual choices we should aim at what is noble. I say that for two reasons. (1)Only the complete narrative of a life can be judged to be happy and (2)Even if all of our choices are noble, our life may not end up as happy. Aristotle is clear that certain circumstances must be in place basically by chance. Looking forward at choices we aim at the noble, at what would "best promote the contemplation of God." As a Christian I'd add that I have faith in Christ and his plan for my life, with a hope of seeing that kind of contemplation in heaven.

  4. buttercream1 says:

    Chelsea: Thanks! First off, I hope that none of the students think I'm some Graduate student jerk telling them to be dour and morose because they've gone astray. For that reason I try to use the pronoun "we" alot, and try to emphasize that you can be cheerful and good at the same time. The other audience I wanted to address were the campus Straussians, some of which wrongly think that it's OK to be immoral if you're intellectual. That sure as heck isn't what Aristotle thought, and I really tried to hammer that home. So, hopefully it causes the normal kids to reflect and shames the "East Coast" Straussians.

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