As we move through the hustle and bustle of our frantic lives we may not have even asked ourselves if we are truly happy?! Our long-term goal may well be to seek out the good life, but do we even know what that looks like? Do we already possess it? Or ironically, does constantly seeking the good life, in fact, reduce our chances to be truly happy?!
Many of us have been slipping in and out of our day to day structures and routines telling ourselves that this is what’s required to be happy. After all, happiness is something we can only achieve when everything in our life finally looks the way we’ve been thinking it should, isn’t it? Cue the house, the car, the holidays, the partner, the perfect body and so on. These materialist ventures don’t create lasting happiness, in which case a meaningful life and happiness remain elusive and potentially unachievable if we don’t know what we are striving for.
Happiness and well-being is a complex construct that relies heavily on a person’s optimal experiences and functioning. Current research on well-being has been derived from two general perspectives: the hedonic approach, which focuses on happiness and defines well-being in terms of pleasure attainment and pain avoidance; and the eudaimonic approach, which focuses on meaning and self-realization and defines well-being in terms of the degree to which a person is fully functioning (1).
Eudaimonia is a Greek word, which refers to a state of having a good indwelling spirit or being in a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous. This word can represent the actions required that result in the well-being of an individual. That being said, Eudaimonia is the notion of being in an objective state rather than a subjective state, which suggests that a person has lived their life well regardless of the subjective mental health and emotions they are experiencing. Therefore, in this case, Eudaimonia places true happiness at the feet of the individual regarding their own subjective appreciation of life.
However, the Greek word Eudaimonia literally means “the state of having a good indwelling spirit”. Therefore “happiness” is not at all an adequate translation of this word. “Eudaimonia” is an Aristotelian term very inadequately translated as happiness. So does this mean possessing good indwelling spirits make the ancient Greek concept of happiness easier to achieve?!
Aristotle was aware that behaviours and actions are not futile because they each have an aim. Every action aims at some good. That good they speak of is Eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is happiness and contentment. Fulfilled by the idea that we are living the best kind of life with our actions and behaviours all leading us to a sense of good, with underpinning wellbeing and happiness.
History of Eudaimonism
Speaking of ancient Greek’s, Socrates believed that human beings desire the state of Eudaimonia more than anything else. However, his understanding of Eudaimonia was developing a sense of personal growth, such as courage, self-control and wisdom allowing an individuals’ wellbeing to flourish. These elements of personal development could be practiced and very much achieved by all, effective practice lead to ownership and achievement of Eudaimonia.
In contrast, Plato’s understanding of Eudaimonia had a more emotional element to it. For example, if a rational individual carried out an evil act, they may well feel guilty for their actions leading to unhappiness, negative emotions and a poor sense of wellbeing.
Therefore Plato’s understanding of happiness stemmed from the rational mind taking charge of the emotional and spiritual aspects before any actions, behaviours or decisions could be made that may lead to happiness.
Literature in more recent decades has suggested the idea of positive psychology leading to happiness. Maslow (1950) coined this term and referred it to authentic happiness that is reached through a balanced view of human nature, human potential, strengths as well as positive emotions. The focus of positive psychology in the quest for happiness is to utilise individual strengths and emotions to positively and effectively impact on certain aspects of your life. For example, rather than relying on the science of happiness such as gaining likes on social media or road running to make yourself feel better, a positive psychology approach takes ownership of one’s emotions, strengths and attributes and applies them to improve quality of life directly.
In this sense, the term ‘positive psychology’ could relate to the study of happiness. Where individuals over time, can learn, study and grow their understanding of personal strengths and qualities. This examination of self allows people from all walks of life the opportunity to become happier and to live better quality and more fulfilled lives. It’s suggested that this approach also helps us to overcome life events and barriers as we meander through our day to day routines. Some of the best ways to combat disappointments and setbacks include strong social relationships and individual character strengths. Positive psychology teaches us that we can build up resilience to these setbacks and still achieve happiness as a result. Money itself doesn’t necessarily buy well-being or lasting happiness. However, a positive psychology approach involves the emotions behind the concept of money, such as spending it on loved ones, good causes, helping out others and so forth. The study of positive psychology finds that it’s not the materialistic value of money that supports true happiness, rather the emotions and feelings assigned to its spending.
In summary, happiness acutely correlates with an evaluation of an individual’s quality of life, therefore making it a subjective matter. However historic descriptions of achieving Eudaimonia are strongly influenced by obtaining the good life as a desirable object.
Whereas happiness is closely associated with an assessment of the quality of an individual’s life, that is purely subjective, Eudaimonia is more concerned with a life as a desirably objective. This notion makes Eudaimonia a more comprehensible and embracing idea for us all. The pursuit of happiness will always heavily rely on the outcome of this pursuit, have I achieved happiness? Whereas if we chose to live our lives not in pursuit of happiness but rather in a Eudaimonically oriented way then happiness would be a by-product to many other positive emotions and achievements throughout this journey.
Through my personal experiences, I have always held a strong interest in human suffering and satisfaction; this greatly influenced my career path. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London.
I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT(Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.