The Pursuit of Happiness: Virtue or Pleasure? Newsletter

The Pursuit of Happiness: Virtue or Pleasure?

This week:

  • New episode: What do philosophers and historians have to say about finding happiness?
  • A look at which countries are the happiest this year
  • Your Sunday reading list



Greek philosopher Aristotle first inquired about the best method to live a happy life in the fourth century B.C. We are all searching for happiness, yet for many of us, it remains elusive.

Signs of A Happiness Crisis?:

  • A quarter of all adults todaymore than a billion people worldwide— feel lonely.
  • 21 million Americans live with major depression or have had a major depressive episode.
  • 93% of young people use self-care methods to help manage their emotions or mental health.
  • The number of life coaches, including happiness coaches, rose by 54% between 2019 and 2022 and more than 15,000 self-help books are sold every year in the U.S.


Just a few months ago and for the first time ever, the U.S. lost its status as one of the twenty “happiest” countries in the 2024 World Happiness Report. Last May, the U.S. Surgeon General declared that our society is dealing with a loneliness epidemic, and we need to find new solutions to combat isolation. All these recent developments encouraged us to reflect and think about what finding happiness truly means.

So that led us to seek guidance from two esteemed thought leaders who have carefully considered this question. In this week’s episode, we look at an age-old philosophical inquiry: The Pursuit of Happiness: Virtue or Pleasure?

Arguing on the side of virtue is The National Constitution Center president and CEO Jeffrey Rosen, who recently published the book “The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America.” Arguing that pleasure is the key to happiness is philosopher Roger Crisp, who is a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Oxford and has written extensively about the concept of hedonism. Vox and New York Magazine journalist Nayeema Raza returns as our guest moderator.

What’s the best method to finding happiness? Decide for yourself by listening on your favorite podcast platform, YouTube, and on our website. As always, let us know what you think.



Jeffrey Rosen

President and CEO of the National Constitution Center; Author of “The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America”



Roger Crisp

Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford; Uehiro Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at St. Anne’s College, Oxford



Nayeema Raza

Journalist at New York Magazine and Vox



What can the U.S. learn from other countries to help Americans be happier?


The Pursuit of Happiness: Virtue or Pleasure?


FOR VIRTUE: Jeffery Rosen

“Virtue [means]… self-mastery, character improvement, self-improvement, using your powers of reason to moderate your unreasonable passions and emotions so that you could be your best self and serve others. To use the modern formulation, it’s really a form of impulse control, resisting your immediate urges and unproductive emotions like anger, jealousy and fear so you can achieve the calm self-mastery that makes us productive and self-possessed citizens. The idea that arose in the 1960s, that immediate gratification is the source of happiness, that’s the position that I’d argue against. The pursuit of happiness requires the pursuit of virtuous self-mastery.”



“When… people promote happiness, what they mean by that is not short-term pleasure. They mean contentment, life satisfaction… That’s what I think many people will be aiming at in their life: those sources of long-term happiness or enjoyment… I’m very disinclined to think that pleasure consists in the absence of pain. It’s the balance of pleasure over pain. That seems to me a very clear, intuitively plausible position: anything is good only insofar as it gives you pleasure. Lives are good because of the pleasure or the happiness that we find within them.”




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Watch Liz’s debate on whether the Republican Party should not re-nominate Trump


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The Guardian

Watch Steven’s debate on whether unions work for the economy


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