What have hedonism and eudaimonism got to do with wellbeing?
Some modern researchers into wellbeing and the often-elusive state of ‘happiness’ have found that we need a combination of pleasurable pursuits and eudaimonism – what the Greek philosophers considered to be satisfaction through excellence. What does this mean for us in real terms? Let’s break this down into the two elements:
Nowadays the word ‘hedonism’ is often associated with dishonourable, selfish pursuits, but it is more accurately defined as engaging with activities that bring pleasure – sometimes known as hedonic happiness. So, finding things to do that make you feel good is an important component of achieving wellbeing. And of course in the interests of looking after ourselves and others, we focus on pursuits that nourish us rather than damage or hurt us or others. Healthy hedonism if you will.
Any activity that gives you a quick ‘happy fix’ is on the list. It’s the kind of thing you long to do when you’ve had a tough week. A hot bubbly bath, a massage, a motorcycle ride in the country, a dance. You get the message. So, pleasure is an important component in seeking wellbeing, but be mindful that you have to maintain balance.
Anything done to excess loses its appeal as we become accustomed and conditioned. If you haven’t found anything yet that brings you pleasure, it’s never too late. We don’t always have the opportunity to figure out what we enjoy so try new things. Engage with new activities, just try something new and see how it feels, and then factor it in to your life in some small but reliable way.
Eudaimonia (excellence and reward after achievement)
Roughly translated as ‘excellence’ this means any pursuit that is initially ‘costly’. By costly I don’t mean in the monetary sense, I mean in that it may require an initial output that doesn’t bring immediate reward. Things like studying for a qualification. The point of this is that you are striving for your ‘excellence’. Departing from a point of limited knowledge, ability or achievement and eventually reaching a place where you are a more ‘developed’ version of yourself in terms of knowledge or achievement.
This brings a long-lasting sense of wellbeing through the reward system and can enhance our self-concept. Remember it doesn’t need to be learning – although we know that lifelong learning is an important part of achieving wellbeing. It could be some other endeavour that takes a while to complete – such as writing a book or making a dress.
So to summarise, an important thing to remember in the quest for wellbeing is that we need a healthy, balanced combination of pleasurable pursuits, and activities that are initially effortful but eventually very rewarding.