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The Science of Well-Being in Philosophy

Since ancient times, philosophers have always focused their reflections on the quest for well-being. Philosophy approaches this subject then under the term “concept of well-being“. How then to understand the concept of well-being in Philosophy? What is exciting is that the word “well-being” one can analyze several essential philosophical concepts.

The Concept of Well-Being in Philosophy

By definition, well-being is a state linked to the balance of different factors that together allow harmony with oneself and others. This state also links the satisfaction of the needs of the body and the calmness of the mind. Well-being can mean “being good” (good in your skin, in your body, in your mind)! In the word “well-being”, there are two words that are essential in philosophy.Well-Being in Philosophy

The Notion of “Being” in Philosophy

As a subject or as a verb, being means above all the existence of a person, a thing, or an idea. (Example): A human being; being is; “I think, so I am,” said Descartes. Being and consciousness of being … Being can also bring together a subject with the complement or an adverb. (Example): I’m alive, the time is fast…

As early as Parmenides, a Greek Presocratic philosopher, being is defined as a primordial subject. It is the foundation of all things, it is the first truth, it is eternal and intelligible. We can also consider Being as God. From then on, being becomes an immaterial substance that defines and determines the phenomena of the sensible world.

On the other hand, it seems difficult to conceive the opposite of being, nothingness.

The Notion of “Good” in Philosophy

The notion of “ good ” has been central to moral philosophy since antiquity. Good is linked to happiness, the good, and in classical philosophy (confers Aristotle) the man always tends towards the Good by his desires, his emotions, and his will. This notion of Good is also found in psychology and in action. A reflection or a moral principle, which is the domain of practical philosophy, focuses on human action by answering the question: how should I live?

From this perspective, the concept of “ good ” is often linked to that of justice and freedom. To understand the notion of “good” here, let us dwell on this sentence of Pindar  ” Become what you are ” and on the famous sentence of Rimbaud ” I am another ” and note that both were taken over by Nietzsche.

  • ” Become what you are. (Pindar and Nietzsche)

This aphorism of Pindar returns several times in the texts of Nietzsche. At first sight, the formula is contradictory: how can we become what we already are? There is no need to become one since we already are!

To associate the becoming and the being, to affirm that it is in the becoming that the being is revealed is a way of reconciling the body and the spirit, the existence and its principle (essence), the multiple and the one in the movement. Being is not here considered as an abstract thing, it is a being in life that reveals itself in the movement towards the future. We can go further: this movement towards the future is the condition of all life; life itself is rooted in movement, in its development.

This is what Nietzsche calls the will to power: the movement that is the motor of becoming self, the movement of life that continues to grow. He considers that this is the logic of life! And what Nietzsche claims is the dynamic alliance of mind and body. According to him, the mind without a body does not exist. Without a body, there is no possibility of existing, of expressing oneself, of being alive.

His message would be: You who are there to become what you are, you alone can become one. The individual, made of a body and a spirit, must draw his strength from him, rather than from any authority external to him.

We could also understand this by:

Be consistent, be alive, always surpass yourself in a movement of power to be and exist, realize yourself, only you can do it.

But this implies self-knowledge and this knowledge allows self-construction. By discovering who I am, I can then want to be what I really am and that is where my freedom to be human lies.

This voluntary movement can be referred to as ” individuation “, that is to say, the conquest of individual freedom from what I am and what I want to become. This is a kind of wisdom that combines knowledge, will, and freedom from the perspective of destiny.

  • ” I am another “. (Arthur Rimbaud)

This famous sentence of the poet Rimbaud also seems contradictory since it identifies the subject (me) with its opposite (the other). What sense can this formula have?

When Rimbaud wrote a letter in 1871 to Paul Demeny in which he exclaimed ” I am another,” he alludes to an original conception of artistic creation. He means that as a poet, it does not matter what is expressed in him: creation arises from an unknown depth, and the conscious self listens and translates it. In other words, Rimbaud recognizes that strangeness is at the heart of his deep being. It also refers to a conception of man that will spread from psychoanalysis with Freud and that we find in Nietzsche’s philosophy: there are in man as many consciences as there are forces which constitute and animate the body and the mind.

But if ” I am another “, how do you take responsibility for others? Are we responsible for who we are and what we do? Are we different from each other, on the other?

Let us return to Nietzsche to try to answer these questions:

According to him, “I am another” means the versatility of the forces that constitute the self and that can escape the models imposed by the collective existence. And these forces in the making are a promise, a resolution to be fulfilled in the future. In other words, decide today what will be tomorrow!

The conception of the man defended by Nietzsche is that of a man sufficiently sure of himself to know that he will be able to fulfill this promise to become what he is, of a man who is aware of the force that dominates in himself all these contradictions (me and the “others” in me).

So far we have tried to study briefly the concept of well-being in Philosophy. And following this study, we understand that Philosophy does indeed have its way of conceiving well-being, happiness. I prefer not to expose an attempt to define well-being or happiness in Philosophy. Because their definition is not unanimous among philosophers. However, like positive psychology, neuroscience, and many other scientific disciplines, Philosophy also gives us its point of view on the Science of Happiness or the Science of Well-being and this is what we will see in the lines following.

Well-Being in Philosophy: Science of Happiness?

Above all, in speaking of the Science of Wellbeing in Philosophy or the Science of Happiness in Philosophy, we must note this definitional approach: Happiness is the awareness of well-being and its manifestations. Scientific studies have shown that everyone can achieve it by “cultivating” it regularly.

” We all seek happiness, but without knowing where, like drunkards looking for their home, knowing confusedly that it exists. ” (Voltaire). When Voltaire wrote these lines in the middle of the eighteenth century in one of his correspondences, happiness is already a fashionable subject: all over Europe flourish treaties devoted to different means of reaching it. Since Greek antiquity (where philosophy was primarily intended to help people build a happy life) until today, the quest for happiness is topical. Except for that contemporary science, as a result of philosophy, has made it a fruitful object of study, as you will see in this file: in fact, never before has happiness been so well known in the world less of its workings, biological and psychological, never the path to reach it has been as well marked. Has it become so easy to make oneself happy? Not necessarily, because happiness is not just a question of knowing. It is also a question of practice, even of regular training.

No Happiness Without Awareness of Happiness

It is obviously difficult to define happiness. Today, we tend to think of it as a feeling, according to the design proposed by the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio of the University of Southern California. In other words, happiness would be “the private experience of an emotion”. It would correspond to the awareness of one’s pleasing internal states – bodily, mental, or both – and would obey the equation: happiness = well-being + awareness of that well-being.


Without this awareness, we miss out on happiness (for example if we are in a pleasant situation, but with the mind occupied elsewhere, that is to say, “concerned”). Making yourself available to enjoy what is happening to us is an effective gateway to happiness.

Existence can bring well-being: having enough to eat, sleep, dress, take care of, have relatives, friends, hot water for a shower, live in a democracy, etc. But it is becoming aware of all these chances that lead to happiness, a feeling much more powerful and specifically human (where well-being remains an animal feeling).

Most scientists studying what makes up the perception of having a happy life show that this feeling corresponds to the repetition of pleasant little states of mind; one feels happy when one regularly experiences those “small” states of happiness dear to the poets, rather than great, but rare, moments of intense joy. Thus, it is a fabric of moments of good mood, and the awareness of these moments, which represents happiness: time spent with a loved one, walking in a beautiful place, stimulating reading, moving music. We stop for a moment his activity, we savor and we feel happy …

Give Meaning to Your Life

But there would be limits to seeing happiness only as an accumulation of pleasures: we consider that it is more just to see happiness as also able to flow from a life full of meaning. This vision was that of the Ancients, but it remains current: the questionnaires of evaluation of “subjective well-being” (the scientific term of happiness) are based both on the frequency of pleasant emotional feelings (well-being says hedonic) and the overall feeling of a meaningful life (well-being eudemonic). These two paths complement and reinforce each other more than they oppose each other. They interact with each other. Because happiness rests on happy moments, but it is not only that: it is also the integration of these happy moments into a global vision of existence.

Well Being in Philosophy

However, unless exceptional, it takes energy, perseverance, and trust to build a meaningful life. And where do these “ingredients” come from? The pleasure of existing, of these positive moods that provide what psychiatrists call the vital impetus (which are lacking the depressed people who have lost the ability to enjoy life) and help to have a vision of all of his life. Indeed, recent studies have shown that the more positive moods there are, the more one feels at a given moment that one’s life has meaning.

Philosophical Critics of Happiness

In a letter to his mistress, Gustave Flaubert wrote: ” To be stupid, selfish, and to have good health, these are the three conditions required to be happy. But if you miss the first, everything is lost. ” He was right only on the third point: the relationship between happiness and health is real, but health is not enough to ensure happiness. Thus, repeated positive emotions are good for health, while good health facilitates the feeling of happiness, without guaranteeing it (testify the hypochondriacs!).

Today, we know that most critics traditionally made to happiness – it would make selfish, demotivated, even anxious or frustrated if you think not to feel enough, etc. – are not justified. Of course, like all human values, happiness can be misled or manipulated: for example by advertising, when it comes to selling products supposed to make happier. Certainly, his quest can become anxiety-provoking or disappointing: the obsession with happiness distances one from happiness. For all that, adopting a quiet but active quest for well-being seems legitimate and useful when one sees the beneficial consequences of this feeling on health and behavior.

However, remember that the emotional balance does not lie in a mental state where we only feel positive emotions:

Research in the psychology of emotions has shown that the report characterizing mental health is about three positive emotions for a negative emotion (this is the ratio of American psychologist Marcial Losada). Too many positive emotions and one is in a state of euphoria or dangerous excitement; not enough, and we switch to stress, anxiety, or depression. Thus, it is useless to seek to always be “positive”, we must simply strive to preserve many pleasant moments in everyday life, to give strength to face difficult times. As it is written in Ecclesiastes (the Holy Bible), there will always be in life “a time to groan and a time to dance”.

Heredity and personal history contribute to psychological well-being. And in the field of happiness, we find the same inequalities as for all dimensions of the human person (beauty, health, intelligence). But faced with these inequalities, regular efforts can reduce the gaps: beauty is partly genetic, but not charm; health has a genetic basis, but we can compensate for that with a healthy lifestyle; the intelligence is also partly inherited but will grow even more if one has the humility to work to progress.

It is the same for happiness. The meta-analyzes of large scientific studies seem to show the following distribution: about 50 percent of the aptitudes to feel happy do not depend on the individual, but on his genes and his past; about 10 percent do not depend much on it, since it is the material environment in which it evolves (democracy or dictatorship, gray or sunny country, countryside or suburbs, etc.); but about 40 percent comes from his regular efforts. Which is not so bad!

Modulate Your Happiness Skills

On the other hand, the 50 percent who do not depend on the individual express themselves as trends inherited from the past, reflexes, and automatic control systems that start spontaneously. Trends are certainly powerful, but that we can learn to modulate. We have inherited, as primates, biological tendencies to scream and bang if we are upset, or to take if we want to: and these tendencies, most people (usually) manage to control them! Likewise, once the urge to harm oneself, to become unhappy, or to stay away from happiness is born (and it is sometimes difficult to prevent it), one then has a margin of maneuver not to obey these “orders” from his past.

So what are the efforts to make to feel happier? In reality, the practices of happiness are, most often, a history of common sense. Most people know exactly what is important for their happiness, at least intuitively. When they are led to think about it, most often as a result of adversity or personal drama, they do not discover their existence but realize that they knew them and should have applied them sooner.

This is also the main lesson of the psychology of happiness: do not delay! Happiness is not to regret or hope, but to savor. As Goethe pointed out in Faust, ” Then the mind does not look forward or backward. The present alone is our happiness.

Conclusion on the Science of Well-Being in Philosophy – Some Tips

You have to take care of your body to reach the reality of man. Having realized in 2015, a program Rue des Sages on this subject with philosopher Laurence Vanin and Professor and oncologist Henri Joyeux, I give you some guidelines of this philosophy of well-being and health that everyone should apply!

In 1948, the World Health Organization defined health “as the complete well-being of a physical, physiological and social individual”. It is therefore necessary to the man the good nutritive, affective, and spiritual foods to acquire good health of the body and the spirit. To prevent is better than to cure, it is better to change the way one lives and to feed oneself so that vital forces can cooperate.

A healthy diet

(cf: The diet 3 ° medicine of Professor Henri Joyeux) rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, moderate in fats and sugars; regular practice of a sport; the limitation of nicotine and alcohol; a healthy daily life; a restful sleep; prevent cancers and increase life expectancy. “We are what we eat,” says the famous oncologist. But to live well is also to cultivate one’s joy, to find serenity and freedom of spirit, to share pleasant moments with one’s loved ones (one thinks of the Banquet of Plato, a symbol of communion, where one drinks the mead, hoping for becoming immortal). Health and well-being therefore also depend on our way of being in the world. We are not stressed but some living conditions contribute to it.

To regain one’s inner rhythm is to be satisfied with calm, to laugh, to yawn, to dream, to marvel, to pray, to breathe …

The race against the clock, due to progress, is often a way to fight against the anguish of death underlying, a fear of being in front of oneself. Why not ask for help when the suitcases are too heavy to carry, the task too hard to handle? Strengthening the bond with others will strengthen the link to oneself, help to find one’s place in the world, to bring a little stone to the edifice of life, to change the planet … who knows?

To be in contact with others and nature.

The philosopher Edgard Morin coined the word “reliance”. Reliance to oneself in relation to identity, reliance on others in relation to the fraternity, reliance on the world in relation to citizenship, and reliance on what is beyond us in relation to spirituality. Health and well-being also go through the path of the mind and are reinforced by the affects (tightening the emotional ties is a favorable factor). The “good life”, dear to the philosophers, is full of hope and wisdom. Nature is a school of life that is our resource. The silence, the chirping of a bird, the beauty of a flower, the fresh air, the freedom … are his precious gifts to preserve to draw the harmony, the beauty, the plenitude, the taste of things simple, go back to basics and anchor yourself in the present to live it fully.

” Become actors of our own life “ as advised by the philosopher Alain in his Art of happiness to optimize our well-being. Let us act on our way of living, to feed ourselves, to be in the world, we can only better carry it!

Other Articles on the Science of Well-being

– General Introduction – The Science of Well-being

– The Science of Well-being in Positive Psychology

– The Science of Well-being in Neuroscience

– Basic Principles of Happiness According to Neuroscience

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