Why humans cannot be completely happy

What do humans want? To be happy. But what is happiness? Happiness, apparently, is that thing Nichomachean Ethics was along the lines of "the final human good, the end to which other goods are merely means".
which humans really want.  A circular definition would indeed make happiness elusive. The definition I found in Aristotle's


Psychologists helpfully use "subjective well-being" in place of "happiness". Interestingly, in Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, the word translated as "happiness" is "eudaimonia", which literally means "living under a good spirit", a closer match to "well-being" than "happiness", since recent usage of "happiness"  often conflates it with fleeting emotional states like elation.  Subjective well-being seems a better translation in general - although it wouldn't be fully consistent with the uses of the word in the Ethics.

Subjective well-being tells us just what it is: a state of mind. Empirical research bears this out: if you are asked about finances just before being asked "All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?", then priming effects makes finances weigh heavily on the judgement of overall happiness. The same thing happens when primed with questions about one's love life, or physical health. Hundreds of factors make up subjective well-being. To name a few:
  • Physical: health, exercise, nutrition, sleep, appearance
  • Personal: adventure, change, direction and goals, financial stability, personal development, relaxation, work, peace (vs anxiety)
  • Interpersonal: social activity and acceptance, peace (vs conflict), altruism, friendship, intimacy (love life), community, family
  • Intellectual: aesthetic appreciation, creative expression, intellectual exploration and engagement
The number of factors suggest some possibilities:

  1. Human brains can't weigh up all the factors at once, so subjective well-being gets thumb sucked from whatever seems salient at the moment, easily influenced by priming.
  2. With so many factors, at least a few will be going wrong at any time. Subjective well being will therefore always have room for improvement.
  3. Lots of room for subjectivity as to which factors count the most. For example I gave an entire section for "intellectual" factors, while someone else might break down "love life" or "family" into half a dozen factors each.
One more thought: if subjective well-being were condensed into a number and graphed it will have a maximum somewhere along the way, you just won't know where it lies.

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