Do We Need Others to Be Happy?

Emma Brennan

4th Year
Old Bawn Community School, Tallaght, Dublin

What is happiness? There are four primary chemicals in the brain that effect happiness: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. But what does it mean to be happy? I like to think happiness is what you feel when you’re living a good life. But Happiness can look different to different people but I think it’s what you feel when you find your place, even if it’s temporary. So, how does happiness change during a pandemic? And how much of it relies on other people? 

On the 27th March 2020, Ireland went into lockdown. People were asked to stay indoors and only make necessary journeys within 2km of their homes. I think happiness and hope began to blur together from that day. People began to find happiness in new ways to make coffee, or with new musical skills. The one constant in this pandemic, has definitely been social media interaction. When people discover a new way to bake bread, they film it and post it online for others to see and there has never been more people video calling. I know that I have never spoken to some people as often as I do now, and I think it’s because it’s been very easy to feel lonely. 

Loneliness has a wide range of negative effects on both physical and mental healthbecause we humans are social creatures who are defined by our social connections. But happiness isn’t the only thing that is being questioned during this pandemic. Moral responsibility has also been thrown into the spotlight. I’ve heard people question how much of the responsibility rests on their shoulders, why bother staying inside if you don’t have the virus? I’m the daughter of a first responder, I’ve never questioned my moral responsibility in these times because I have the answers I need. I stay inside so I don’t risk infection, I stay inside out of respect for the work my dad is doing. But my view may be different to people who aren’t in my position, why should they care what my dad is doing? Why bother following the rules of the restrictions if they aren’t laws, in short, why choose to be a morally good person right now?  

Aristotle states that in order to live well and reach Eudaimonia, one must have ‘virtue of character’. Essentially, Aristotle states that an important part of reaching happiness is doing good, but Aristotle also questions what obligations we have to those who are less fortunate and what we can do to help them live well. In relation to that, the show ‘The Good Place’ also states that “People improve when they are given external love and support. How can we hold it against them when they don’t?” I think when Aristotle refers to the ‘less fortunate’ he is also referring to those who were not given the relationships with others that would’ve allowed them to grow into a virtuous person. So, part of being a good person is helping others improve as well, forming meaningful and healthy connections, and in theory, reaching Eudaimonia, or, happiness. 

I believe that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people, and as ‘The Good Place’ summarized: our innate desire to treat those we care about with respect. The responsibility lies on our shoulders as a community, and the governments, because simply put: we are not in this alone.  And I do believe that being a good person and doing good things (pandemic or not) does make you feel happy, just like Aristotle concluded, even if it’s just a little. Because being human means wanting to be a part of things. Every society was built on groups of people working together. Knowing that you’ve made a positive impact on someone else’s life makes you feel included and acknowledged. 

The Liberty Principal supports John Rawls ‘Veil of Ignorance’.  The Liberty Principal essentially means everyone should be able to enjoy freedom without intruding on the freedom of others. While this could be interpreted at being detached from others, I think it means people should be able to enjoy their own life in whatever way that means for them while also being respectful towards other people and how they achieve their happiness. And in turn be respected by others. The Difference Principal, which also supports Rawls’ ‘Veil of Ignorance’, also states that leading a good and fulfilled life means helping others to do so as well. 

And If I were to take a slightly more selfish approach to the topic, as an individual I would like to live my life feeling good, and I’d feel even better if I knew that the people around me were able to feel good, regardless of my impact. Good people do things for other people because in the end the relationships we’ve built are what we’re remembered for and what define us, and they wouldn’t be if they didn’t mean something. Our relationships with other people drive us to do good things, they make us feel wanted, like we’ve found our place, temporary or not; because in conclusion, enduring happiness comes from human relationships.