Aristotle And Plato: Their Views On Happiness

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Plato and Aristotle were two ancient Greek philosophers whose thoughts may still influence the world today. In general, Plato believed that people could be happy if they were moral and followed the four cardinal values of temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice. Meanwhile, Aristotle, who was Plato’s student, generally saw happiness as the overall goal of life and believed that people could reach it by living virtuously and using their critical thinking and reasoning skills. It may be possible to apply Plato’s and Aristotle’s views on happiness to your life by having principles and sticking to them, living in the present, setting reasonable goals, and seeking balance. Working with a licensed therapist in person or online may also help you find happiness.

A brief look at Aristotle and Plato

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Plato may be one of the reasons why the world operates the way it does today. He created the Academy, which is typically considered to be the first place of higher education in the West. While his life can be shrouded in mystery, Plato’s works have survived for thousands of years, and he was a teacher to many people, including Aristotle, who some believe to be his most famous student.


Aristotle joined Plato's Academy as a young adult and continued studying there for 20 years. He is typically thought to have become one of the biggest influences on the Western philosophy of values, and like Plato, his works have survived, often continuing to influence modern society.

Plato's opinion on happiness

Plato wrote his ideas on happiness in The Republic. He believed that those who are happy are those who are moral and follow the four cardinal values. He taught that these were character traits that could be used and practiced until one could utilize them without thinking about it. These four values generally included the following:


Temperance usually involves moderation in one's desires or a middle road between excess and deficiency. It can be thought of as exhibiting restraint in one's actions and staying balanced. For example, Plato might judge a person who never drinks alcohol in the same way as someone who drinks alcohol to excess.


Also known as courage, fortitude can be defined as inner strength in the face of adversity. When you're courageous, you may resist temptations and overcome difficulties. You may remain tenacious and fight on despite the troubles you may face. Those who have fortitude usually persevere. Fortitude may be a necessary component in accomplishing your goals, which can contribute to overall happiness.


Prudence normally involves being reasonable and using that reason to self-govern. Those who are happy may be able to self-judge and choose moral actions. They may be mindful, learn from their mistakes, and strive to improve. 



Plato's definition of justice can be slightly different from what we may think of when we hear the word. It is generally the most abstract of the virtues. Justice, in Plato’s view, can be considered the middle road between being selfless and selfish. Plato generally believed that while one should pursue their own desires, it can also be essential to help those around them flourish.

To summarize, Plato generally believed that a happy person has principles and sticks to them. 

Aristotle's opinion on happiness

Aristotle spent a lot of time talking about happiness. He generally believed that happiness was the goal of life and could be achieved by living virtuously. One may live virtuously by nurturing their inherent good habits and developing new ones. Doing so can enable one to make good choices and lead a happy life.

Humanity itself may have a function, according to Aristotle, and that may be to reason. We may be set apart from other creatures because we are self-aware and have critical thinking skills. Aristotle generally believed that we need to use our reasoning to be happy, which can help us live a virtuous life.

Plato and Aristotle can be said to have believed in having a system of values and sticking to them to achieve happiness. They may have also believed in choosing the middle ground between excess and depravity.

What can we learn from Plato and Aristotle?

Aristotle and Plato may not be infallible beings, but their words can apply to many people, and you can strive to improve your life by thinking about their beliefs. Some ways you can do this may include the following:

Have principles

Perhaps you have a moral code, but you may not have given it much thought. You might think about what you believe to be right or wrong and stick to it. By enforcing your principles, you may find yourself feeling happier. If you mess up, it can be best to learn from your mistakes and remember that no one may be completely perfect.

Live in the present

In order to reason, one must usually be mindful of the present. It can be okay to think about the past or plan for the future, but if you dwell on either too much, it can make you unhappy. Instead, you might choose to practice temperance and fall somewhere in the middle. Try to live in the here and now instead of dwelling on one side or the other.

Set reasonable goals

Striving for goals and achieving something great can be one way to achieve happiness, but your goals should usually center on what you have. It may be a good ambition to become a billionaire, but most of us may benefit from smaller and more manageable goals. 

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Seek balance

Humans can be creatures of extremes. Temperance may be one such solution to this potential problem. Think about parts in your life where you may do too much. For instance, you may constantly scroll on social media throughout the day. This may distract you from your life, and the images and messages you find there may negatively impact your mental health. 

However, not having social media can make you feel isolated in some cases. A person with temperance could be one who checks social media on occasion, but focuses on real life as well as the virtual world.

Therapy can help you find happiness

It might be great to have Aristotle or Plato as your mentor, but their time has long passed. If you're looking for someone to help you achieve happiness, consider trying therapy. Therapy can teach you ways to achieve your goals, potentially increasing your happiness. If you’re living with any kind of mental health disorder or have been experiencing mental health challenges, therapy can also be helpful in alleviating any associated symptoms.

Benefits of online therapy

Online therapy may be an excellent option if you’re ready to talk to a professional but aren’t interested in meeting with a therapist face-to-face. With online therapy, you can meet with your therapist from the comfort of your home or wherever you have an internet connection. Plus, you can reach out to your therapist with a message anytime, even if sadness hits you in the middle of the night, and they’ll typically get back to you as soon as they can.

Effectiveness of online therapy

Online treatment can be effective, too. A 2020 study showed that online therapy generally resulted in “significant and clinically meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety scores relative to a baseline that was observed postintervention at 12 weeks and sustained at program month 6.” Whether you’re showing signs of depression or just need guidance in finding happiness, consider working with a therapist.


Plato’s views of happiness generally consisted of the importance of morality and following the cardinal values of justice, fortitude, prudence, and temperance. Aristotle generally believed that it was important to use reasoning skills and live virtuously in order to achieve happiness. Today, you might apply the wisdom of these ancient Greek philosophers by seeking balance, living in the present, sticking to your morals, and setting reasonable goals. A licensed therapist may be a helpful guide in your journey toward finding happiness.
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