In the Intro to Purpose post, we introduced eudaimonic well-being as one of the main benefits of purpose. In this post, we’re going to expand on why and how eudaimonic pursuits are necessary components of our thrivelihood.
Eudaimonic well-being is the satisfaction or gratification that comes from personal development, or participating in meaningful, important work. It’s a concept that dates back to at least Aristotle, who pointed out that not all things that produce the sensation or feeling of pleasure also produce wellness.
As Aristotle argued, pure hedonic happiness may not always be good for us in the long run, and may be self-defeating. Engaging in an activity that is fun in the moment but reaps negative consequences in the future isn’t truly supporting our well-being. Therefore, when we choose courses of action, we must remember to consider the consequences so we are not acquiring our present well-being at the expense of our future well-being.
Let’s take a look at a simple example. You sit down to dinner with an endless portion of your ideal meal and some tuned-in self-awareness. As you inhale that first bite, your brain’s reward system starts firing on all cylinders. You think, “I could eat this forever”. It is an enjoyable act. As you continue to eat, eventually, you will realize1that you have probably had enough.2This is a moment where purpose can guide your process.
Do you continue to eat? If you do, you will continue to experience the pleasure of consuming this sensational food. But you will also close in on that uncomfortable feeling we all know too well: an engorged belly and the sluggishness of overconsumption. This is the logical result if we factor in only the present moment and choose to live hedonically.
If, instead, you stop eating, you are likely considering your energy levels, your ability to perform both physically and mentally, and even your future health. This purpose allows you to live for your future, your long-term wellness, and your ability to thrive: eudaimonia.34
Modern psychologists have begun investigating the impacts of these life philosophies and are noticing some emerging trends. They have found that when we pursue hedonic activities, we will experience more pleasant feelings, be more energetic, and have low negative affect. In fact, we’ll be happier doing hedonic activities than eudaimonic activities. However, people who pursue more eudaimonic activities report higher overall life satisfaction.5
In light of this evidence, many psychologists have been revising their theories of well-being to include more eudaimonic elements. Dr. Martin Seligman is often cited as the founder of positive psychology. Recently, he upgraded from his “authentic happiness” theory to the “PERMA” theory. His new theory includes the elements Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Purpose, and Accomplishment.
An examination of this, and several other eudaimonic theories, reveals two common themes:
- Personal Growth/Development
- “Transcendence” (or participating in something larger than yourself, which Seligman calls “meaning”)
Thinking about these two facets of eudaimonic well-being in context helps illustrate why they might be important. When we have a life-crisis, it typically goes something like this: “What the heck am I doing with my life?!”
The root of this thought is often a feeling of not doing something that’s important to you. We might feel we’re in the wrong line of work, and start seeking something that is more meaningful.6 Or, it might be that you’re not making progress toward something that’s important to you. We might be on the “right” path, but feel our current role is not offering enough growth. This leaves us feeling stagnant, as if we’re wasting our time.
These sort of existential crises are only cured by eudaimonic well-being. In a crisis, we are anxious about our current path. Appropriately applying purposeful growth helps us avoid feeling anxiety about our path. More importantly, purposeful growth can actually allow us to feel positively about our path. How we go about creating these futures is a large focus of the Realize Renaissance mission.7
However, there’s one major caveat here: we cannot have only eudaimonic well-being. Just as focusing on only the present can diminish our experience of the future, so too can focusing only on the future diminish our experience of the present. We stated previously that we must integrate our purpose into our process to live a thriving life. So, too, must we integrate our hedonic enjoyment with our eudaimonic well-being to truly thrive.
That is worth saying a second time. We must integrate our hedonic enjoyment into our eudaimonic well-being in order to thrive. We must connect pleasure to the actions demanded by our desired future in order to experience enjoyment in the moment and satisfaction over the long-term.
So what does an integral purpose look like? Find out next week, on Realize Renaissance.