What is happiness?

What is happiness?

The short answer: Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. This state is comprised of short-term emotions and long-term patterns.

“Psychological well-being is usually conceptualised as some combination of positive affective states (the hedonic perspective) and functioning with optimal effectiveness in individual and social life (the eudaimonic perspective) (Deci & Ryan 2008).[1]”

Understanding the two perspectives: the hedonic & the eudaimonic

The Hedonic Perspective
The name derives from the Greek word for pleasure, “hēdonē”.

“Equating well-being with hedonic pleasure or happiness has a long history. Hedonism, as a view of well-being, has thus been expressed in many forms and has varied from a relatively narrow focus on bodily pleasures to a broad focus on appetites and self-interests.[2]”

“Aristippus, a Greek philosopher (435 – 356 BCE), taught that the goal of life is to experience the maximum amount of pleasure, and that happiness is the totality of one’s hedonic moments. His early philosophical hedonism has been followed by many others. Hobbes argued that happiness lies in the successful pursuit of our human appetites, and DeSade believed that pursuit of sensation and pleasure is the ultimate goal of life. Utilitarian philosophers such as Bentham argued that it is through individuals’ attempting to maximize pleasure and self-interest that the good society is built. [2]”

The Eudaimonic Perspective
From the Greek words “eu” (“good”) and “daimōn” (“spirit”) and literally translates to human flourishing.

“Eudaimonic Well-Being refers to quality of life derived from the development of a person’s best potentials and their application in the fulfillment of personally expressive, self-concordant goals (Sheldon, 2002; Waterman, 1990a, 2008). The origins…can be traced to classic Hellenic philosophy, most notably to the writings of Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE), where happiness in the form of eudaimonia was contrasted with the more traditional understanding of happiness as hedonia or pleasure.[3]”

“In his seminal work entitled Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle was the first to introduce eudaimonic conceptions of happiness. Rejecting the notion that happiness could be equated with the attainment of pleasure, Aristotle suggested that true happiness could be achieved by living a life of contemplation and virtue. In traditional Aristotelian terms virtue is objectively considered to be the best within a person or excellence (Ackrill, 1973). Thus, Aristotle might suggest that a gardener could live a life of virtue through exercising his or her function (i.e., gardening) to its fullest.[4]”

Pulling it all back together

Combining Aristippus & Aristotle, we’re left with this: happiness is obtained from doing what you love and taking the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Said another way, happiness comes from planting the rose bush while still taking the time to stop and smell the roses.

Roses” by Ririkuku is licensed under CC BY 3.0

1.Winefield, Helen R., et al. “Psychological well-being and psychological distress: is it necessary to measure both?.” Psychology of Well-Being 2.1 (2012): 1-14.
2.Ryan, Richard M., and Edward L. Deci. “On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being.” Annual review of psychology 52.1 (2001): 141-166.
3.Waterman, Alan S., et al. “The Questionnaire for Eudaimonic Well-Being: Psychometric properties, demographic comparisons, and evidence of validity.” The Journal of Positive Psychology 5.1 (2010): 41-61.
4.Lee, Elliott, and Tyler Carey. “Eudaimonic Well-Being as a Core Concept of Positive Functioning.” ‘Accreditation 101’for Students (2013): 17.

Also published on Medium.

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