In the academic world (philosophical and psychological), and dating all the way back to Aristotle there are two main approaches to defining a happy life (although arguably there are probably many more).
I personally like the term ‘well-being’ as a more descriptive word of what the field of positive psychology is really all about.
Happiness is only one part of subjective well-being, and so in this post, I’m going to talk about the broader idea of ‘happy’.
OK., so the first way of describing well-being is what’s referred to as hedonic well-being, and the second is eudaimonic well-being – I know, in the ‘real world’ outside of academia, we’ve got to look for something more practical… waking up and asking the wife “How’s your eudaimonic happiness today love?” probably just won’t cut it.
I’ve often said my sons have taught me probably more than I will ever teach them (and they keep reminding me of this), so I thought in researching for this post, I’d test out my explanations of eudaimonic and hedonic well-being on them first.
Now, to be transparent here, I didn’t use the words hedonic or eudaimonic, because that would have just resulted in a major eye-roll from them both… “Dad’s trying out the big words on us again.”
So what I did, was to say to them that there are a number of ways you can ‘measure’ or think about your overall sense of well-being… your sense of measuring how well you’re doing with what’s important to living a good life.
One way to think about your overall sense of well-being is to focus on your feelings about your overall life, for example how happy you are, how contented you are, how satisfied you are, how joyful you are. In other words, you measure your overall sense of well-being by the amount of personal pleasure you gain out of life. (This is my definition of hedonic well-being).
Good news… they both understood that.
Another way to think about your overall sense of well-being is to focus on the extent to which you are fulfilling your potential. So for example do you feel a sense of personal growth, that you’re flourishing and prospering and being the best person you can be… a person of good character, living a life with meaning, and contributing something that makes the world better in some way? (And this is my definition of eudaimonic well-being).
Good news again… they both got this as well.
Interestingly, they both said that surely when looking at our lives we would need to look at both of these aspects. And I agree.