Can virtue make you happy?

Submitted on March 27, 2015 as a short writing for a philosophy course at HKU.

I agree that being virtuous will allow us to obtain pleasure.

philosophy pleasure

Photo: pixabay.

Being virtuous implies that you are acting good, and it is a deposition for you to act appropriately. As many people put it, “helping others is the source of happiness,” being virtuous will essentially reward us psychologically. As Jonathan Haidt put in his book The Happiness Hypothesis, psychologists have found that altruistic behaviors generally make people feel good. Let us consider the following example.

Imagine that you see an elderly dropping his crutch on the ground. The elderly is definitely experiencing difficulties trying to kneel down to pick up his crutch, and you just need to walk a few steps to help him pick it up. Most people would have the instinct of offering their help by walking up to the elderly and pick up his crutch for him. Afterwards, the elderly would be pleased to have received the much necessary help from others. He would thank the ones who helped him, and eventually you will see the elderly walk away happily.

Under this scenario, it would be intuitive to think that you will obtain pleasure for having helped this elderly. This can be accounted for by the natural psychological reward of being virtuous – in this case, offering help to the elderly. Initially, you might not decide to help the elderly because you wanted to obtain such pleasure. It might just be out of your natural instinct to help. Confucianism has illustrated the example of a young child inadvertently walking towards a deep well, to argue that mankind would have the instinct to save the child, and that the instinct is not based on any perceivable rewards.

Nevertheless, by offering help, we will eventually obtain pleasure (simply due to our nature). This might have been wired in our genes by nature such that people will be virtuous to others, so that mankind can survive. Even though obtaining pleasure might not be our initial reason for being virtuous, at the end of the day, it will still make us happy.


Submitted for HKU course: The Best Things in Life: A Philosophical Exploration (CCHU9052).

Copyright © 2015 Eric Cheung. All rights reserved.

Please note that copying without proper acknowledgement (plagiarism) is a very serious offence in the academic world.

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