Aristotle's Advice on How to Be Happy

Aristotle not only dedicated his work to science, but also to the study of human virtues, such as education, and even developed a series of notions on how to be happy.
Aristotle's Advice on How to Be Happy
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 29 February, 2024

Aristotle is one of the most recognized Greek thinkers of his time. His reflections on life and the world continue to generate curiosity. In this regard, one of the topics that this philosopher addressed was happiness and, more specifically, how to be happy. It’s a lifestyle that proposes a way of living that allows individuals to feel fulfilled. But without harming others or themselves.

If you’ve set the goal of being happy, you may be interested in knowing the Aristotelian vision. You may learn a thing or two that will help you progress on the path to self-actualization.

Aristotle’s ten tips on how to be happy

In Ancient Greece, teachers and philosophers were concerned with forming the character of their pupils. That is, they not only taught about science or religion, but also about how to become good citizens. In this way, each thinker had his own way of conceiving topics related to will, love, hate, happiness, etc.

Typically, these teachers were torn between two extremes when it came to happiness. Some professed that in order to be happy, one must give free rein to all possible pleasures. Others said that this state was achieved by living only with what was necessary and forgetting about excesses.

Contrary to this position, Aristotle had a different vision of how to be happy and achieve “eudaimonia” or plenitude. In his work Nicomachean Ethics, the philosopher explains that happiness is obtained by developing a series of virtues. In other words, plenitude comes through attitude.

According to the author, the key is balance, knowing how to find a middle point between extremes. You can’t fall into hedonism or unbridled pleasure, but you shouldn’t repress desire either. Below, we’ll talk about the ten virtues that Aristotle recommended that people should cultivate in order to be happy.

A woman with her arms out and her face smiling toward the sun on the beach, with sandy dunes in the background.

1. Modesty

For Aristotle, modesty was the balance between having an inflated ego and self-hatred. A modest person recognizes their weaknesses but is also able to see their strengths and take advantage of them. In other words, to be happy, it’s important to have good self-esteem.

Wani and Dar (2017) published a work on the relationship between self-esteem, optimism, and happiness in university students. The results reveal a strong correlation between the degree of self-esteem, happiness, and optimism. Therefore, we could say that developing a realistic and kind perception of one’s own being is essential for well-being.

2. Honesty

Another important part of how to be happy is authenticity. A complete individual must always express themself with the truth, without leaving aside kindness when expressing themself. Again, Aristotle defines a middle point: Neither lying nor aggression.

3. Sociability

For human beings, socializing is as natural and necessary as eating or sleeping. From the moment we’re born, we need a solid circle of social support around us.

In a study, Tacca, Cuarez, and Quispe (2020) evaluated the relationship between self-esteem, self-concept, and social skills in Peruvian high school students. The findings reveal that there’s a positive correlation between the degree of sociability and self-esteem. In summary, having the ability to create social bonds is associated with greater well-being.

However, this doesn’t mean that all the relationships someone has are beneficial. We know that ties can also be harmful. In this case, balance is found in knowing how to choose who to establish ties with and cultivating them with empathy and kindness.

4. Decorum

On the one hand, there are people who let shyness dominate them and refrain from doing anything out of fear. At the other extreme are individuals who have no consideration for others and act insolently.

Then, in the middle point is decorum, where the person pursues their goals without trampling on anyone. This capacity is possessed by people who demand respect and, in turn, grant it to others.

5. Justice

A person who wants to know how to be happy needs to develop a balanced sense of justice. Along this same line, you can’t completely lose interest in others, but you can’t forget about yourself either.

For example, if the person is involved in a crime with someone else, it’s not fair to take all the blame when there was a third party.

6. Self-control

Emotions are an essential part of humanity, and learning to process them is a way to achieve fulfillment. So, it’s not positive to repress any feelings, although it’s just as negative for them to take control of the person.

To illustrate this, imagine that someone hurts you on an emotional level. In this situation, it’s normal for you to get angry. Let the emotion appear. Now, the important thing is what you do with it.

In this same sense, Cheung et al. (2014) conducted research on self-control and happiness. As a result, they found that high levels of self-control are associated with greater happiness. The authors suggest that there would be a modulating variable in the middle: The focus on achievement.

7. Tolerance

There’s a middle ground between being indulgent and uncompromising: Tolerance. According to Aristotle, figuring out how to forgive helps. However, that doesn’t mean letting others hurt us. In short, you can tolerate another’s mistakes without forgetting about self-respect.

8. Generosity

If you want to learn how to be happy, try to find the balance between selfishness and selflessness. For Aristotle, this virtue was generosity and consisted of helping others while taking the self into account. In simple terms, it’s about being charitable, but not to the point of giving everything without receiving anything in return.

A woman holding another person hands in hers.

9. Grace

A happy personality understands how to have fun and knows how to use a sense of humor to face tragedy. At the same time, they understand that there are circumstances in which there’s no room for laughter, and it’s important to act seriously. In this way, grace has to do with being a pleasant source of company for others.

10. Strength

Allowing fear to paralyze you can become an obstacle to moving forward on your path to wholeness. However, acting impulsively without measuring the consequences of your actions doesn’t usually lead to pleasant consequences.

Following this thread, someone with strong resources will be able to take more risks, which doesn’t mean that there are certain situations that could make them vulnerable.

To conclude, Aristotle’s teachings on how to be happy are an important contribution to human philosophy. This thinker changed the perspective that happiness was something that could be pursued and not an attitude. Likewise, he highlighted the importance of balance to find fulfillment.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cheung, T. T., Gillebaart, M., Kroese, F., & De Ridder, D. (2014). Why are people with high self-control happier? The effect of trait self-control on happiness as mediated by regulatory focus. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 722.
  • Tacca Huamán, D.R., Cuarez Cordero, R, & Quispe Huaycho, R. (2020). Habilidades Sociales, Autoconcepto y Autoestima en Adolescentes Peruanos de Educación Secundaria, International Journal of Sociology of Education, 9(3), 293-324.
  • Villalobos, H. P. (2019). Autoestima, teorías y su relación con el éxito personal.
  • Wani, M., & Dar, A. A. (2017). Optimism, happiness, and self-esteem among university students. Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(3), 275-279.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.