What You Need to Know About Eudaimonia
The pursuit of happiness is a human obsession. It is written into our Declaration of Independence as an “unalienable right.” Even the Dalai Lama posted on his Facebook page that the “very purpose of our life is happiness”:
Yet we tend to go about obtaining happiness in the wrong way. We look for it outside ourselves, in vacations and junk food, in parties and Netflix binges. Too often, we mistake material and fleeting happiness as the only way to get the positive boost we’re seeking. These quick fixes work well as distractions but may actually detract from our overall level of joy. Why?
Let’s take a quick look into ancient philosophy. Socrates and his students, like Plato and Arristippus, debated the ethics of happiness. Arristippus put forward “hedonism,” a method that concentrates on pleasure and self-indulgence. It’s an extremely tempting option, but it often excuses selfish behavior. Hedonism is like living a life by consuming only empty calories and hoping to stay healthy.
Aristotle, on the other hand, encouraged a more moderate method. “Eudaimonia” is like eating a well-balanced meal that also tastes great. Translating into something close to “well-being” or “human flourishing,” eudaimonia encourages finding joy in contentment and accomplishment. While happiness is subjective and will vary from person to person, the act of pursuing your happiness in your everyday activities will put you on the right path.
Here are a few ways to incorporate eudaimonia into your life:
- Get stuff done. Flourishing has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with effort. You don’t need to cross an entire project off your to-do list to feel accomplished. Break your goals into subgoals and tackle away. Each time you’ve completed a milestone, allow yourself to feel success. Use that glow to propel yourself forward to the next step, or the next goal. You’ve got this.
- Believe in yourself. It’s okay to tackle the hard things, even if you don’t believe you have the skills required. You can learn, or you can ask for help along the way. The point is, in the end, you are capable of putting in your best effort. In eudaimonia, the journey is more important than the goal. You don’t need to wait for the result to feel good. Despite Yoda’s sage advice, there is “try,” and “trying” is a great start.
- Explore your purpose. Remember how happiness varies? That’s because we are all individuals with different interests, gifts, and aversions. Fortunately, there is a place for your unique talents in this world. By following your heart and accepting who you are, you will be that much closer to creating a life that suits you. Here’s another secret: accepting yourself is crucial to happiness. Take an honest assessment of who you are- your values, your talents, your challenges, and resolve to be your best self. Recognize when you aren’t.
- Give yourself a break. You can’t be perfect all the time. In fact, you probably can’t be perfect at all and that’s okay. Flourishing doesn’t mean working yourself into a state of exhaustion. It means taking care of yourself, physically, mentally and emotionally. It means meeting your deadlines and relaxing with your friends. It means setting yourself up for success and keeping your options open.
The world is a very different place now than it was when Socrates engaged in long debate with his students. Not everything about their ideas will transfer neatly into modern society. However, the idea that happiness is not only attainable, but within your grasp, within your control, is timeless.