While the pursuit of happiness is a near universal, the means to this happiness and the contours of attained happiness can differ widely across people and situations.
The human pursuit of well-being occupies space that extends beyond simply seeking pleasure, feeling good, and being satisfied. In philosophy, Aristotle introduced the concept of “eudaimonia” to reflect human flourishing as a reflection of virtue and the development of one’s full potential, in contrast to pleasure-centred hedonic well-being. Within psychological science, traditional conceptualizations of subjective well-being have also been expanded to include constructs that capture a more holistic version of well-being.
While we know it when we feel it, happiness is challenging to define. Happiness is a positive emotional state, but each individual’s experience of that positive emotional state is subjective. When and why one experiences happiness can be the result of several factors working together, including culture, values, and personality traits.
Given the difficulty of coming to a consensus about how to define happiness, psychologists often refrain from using the term in their research. Instead, psychologists refer to well-being. While it could ultimately be seen as a synonym for happiness, conceptualizing well-being in psychological research has enabled scholars to better define and measure it.
Two Main Types of Happiness
There are two main types of happiness or sources of pleasure, i.e., hedonism and eudaimonia
Hedonism is the subjective well-being perspective which focuses on the pursuit of pleasure. It refers to the sort of pleasure or happiness that we derive from doing what we like or avoid doing what we do not like. This is happiness that is most likely to occur when one engages in fleeting pleasures like sex, playing music, eating a delicious meal, or winning an award.
This type of happiness is the fulfilment derived from pursuing purposeful activities. It happens when people achieve something meaningful like passing the bar exam, volunteering your time to help others and achieving other long-term goals. It takes longer for eudaimonia to diminish compared to hedonic happiness. The concept of eudaimonic well-being is comprised of six crucial elements that experts believe are a prerequisite for authentic and lasting happiness:
- Personal growth
- Environmental mastery
- Positive relations
- Purpose in life
While this may make it seem like the path to happiness is eudaimonia, sometimes it’s not practical to engage in the activities that evoke eudaimonic happiness. If you’re feeling sad or stressed, often treating yourself to a simple hedonic pleasure, like eating dessert or listening to a favourite song, can be a quick mood booster that requires a lot less effort than engaging in a eudaimonic activity. Thus, both eudaimonia and hedonia have a role to play in one’s overall happiness and well-being.
With regards to the above six crucial elements that experts believe are a prerequisite for authentic and lasting happiness, how do you fare on each on a scale of 0 – 5? How do you feel about your life right now? Do you really feel that it is meaningful and purposefully directed? Or perhaps you feel that you are just floating with the wind?
Veli Ndaba is a NeuroEngineering Leadership Effect Speaker and Trainer, Brain Coach and Author of four books (You Are Born to Win, Your Dream is Calling You and SWITCH ON! And Set Your Soul On Fire!) and Newspaper Columnist. To book him to speak at your next event or to help you and your team unleash your greatness, contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org, www.velindaba.com or +27 83 304 9773