Eudaimonia for the New Year!
January 4, 2022
Several years ago my youngest daughter shared with me a new word she had learned and studied in her English class that really intrigued her: eudaimonia
She was anxious to share the word with me because of it's ancient origins and the fact that it was a word still in use today, although many, if not most people have never heard of it.
The simplest definition of the term from ancient Greek philosophy is "happiness" or "flourishing".
However, according to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, eudaimonia is much more. Aristotle describes how to achieve eudaimonia as follows:
“A life of eudaimonia is a life of striving. It’s a life of pushing yourself to your limits, and finding success. A eudaimonistic life will be full of the happiness that comes from achieving something really difficult, rather than just having it handed to you.” (see Berkeley Well-Being Institute)
eudaimonia noun (eu·dae·mo·nia)A Greek word literally translating to the state or condition of "good spirit", and which is commonly translated as "happiness" or "well-being".
Challenges to Happiness
In her 2013 book The Myths of Happiness, University of California Riverside professor of psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky defines the "myths" as adult life achievements which our society has identified as making us forever "happy" and adult failures which will make us forever "unhappy".
For example, "I'll be happy when I [fill in the blank... get married, have children, become wealthy]".
Or, "I can't be happy when [I'm not married, can't have children, have no money]".
With this mindset deeply ingrained in our belief system, we find it very difficult to see beyond these societal preconceived notions.
Yet, we're let down by positives when we realize that reality doesn't live up to expectations, e.g. "I'm married and have kids, so why am I not over the moon happy?"
Likewise, we let negative outcomes in life bring us lower than may be reasonable, e.g. "I'm 45, lost the job I had for 20 years, and no one will want to hire me."
Shawn Anchor is a researcher and speaker on positive psychology who's TED Talk, "The Happy Secret to Better Work", has had almost 25 million views.
He points out that the formula for success for most schools and businesses is, "If I work harder, I'll be more successful. If I'm more successful, then I'll be happier."
This way of thinking under-girds how we parent our kids, manage people, and the way we motivate behavior.
The problem, according to Anchor, is that this is "scientifically broken and backward."
"Every time your brain has a success, you just change the goal posts of what success looks like."
You hit the sales goal, so we increase the number. You finally buy the car you've always wanted, now you want one that's even better. You're kid scores 20 points in a game, so you push them to score 30 in the next game.
"If happiness is on the other side of success, you're brain never gets there."
Sonja Lyubomirsky teaches how to "look beyond the expectations that accompany the myths of happiness," to "understand the misconceptions and biases motivating our reactions."
The real skill taught in The Myths of Happiness is how to recognize when faced with life challenges that "no matter how clear the way forward seems, there is no one direct, apposite path or one way of regarding our situation."
With a more thoughtful and logical approach, as opposed to emotional and instinctive, Lyubomirsky recommends a few steps to following a more consistent path to happiness.
"First, make a mental note of your initial intuitions or gut reactions about the path you should be taking,... then shelve them for a while."
"Second, seek the opinion of an outsider (impartial friend or counselor) or simply make an effort to take an objective observer's perspective."
"Third, consider the opposite of whatever your gut instinct is telling you to do, and systematically play through the consequences in your mind."
"Finally, when your crossroads involves multiple decisions,... weigh all your options simultaneously rather than separately."
Shawn Anchor explains that if you can raise a person's level of positivity, their brain will experience what is called a "happiness advantage."
Research shows that when your brain is working in positive rather than neutral or negative stress, it experiences an increase in levels of intelligence, creativity, and energy.
In short, "if we can find a way to become more positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully, as we're able to work harder, faster, and more intelligently."
Anchor presents five research proven ways to "train your brain" to become more positive.
It's as simple as doing the following activities each day for twenty-one (21) days in a row (the same amount of time necessary to make them a habit):
1. Three (3) Gratitudes - Write down three new things that you're grateful for.
2. Journaling - Write about one positive experience you've had over the last 24 hours.
3. Random Acts of Kindness * - Write one positive email praising or thanking one person in your social support network.
4. Exercise - Teaches your brain that your behavior matters.
5. Meditation - Allows the brain to get over the "cultural ADHD" created by multitasking all the time, and instead focusing on just one thing.
* Note that this one comes from Sonja Lyubomirsky's research.
Lyubomirsky and Anchor make it clear that happiness will not come to just anyone without at least some level of effort to apply a thoughtful process that allows you to view the world through a positive lens.
It's as Aristotle said thousands of years ago, " A eudaimonistic life will be full of the happiness that comes from achieving something really difficult, rather than just having it handed to you.”
Use the tools shared in this article to find your own eudaimonia and true happiness.
In doing so, you will also have a greater appreciation for the personal and professional freedom that you already have and are working hard to achieve.
Lastly, don't forget to always...
Stay focused on your freedom!