What is eudaimonia?
Eudaimonia by definition: The Encyclopedia Britannica defines eudaimonia, also spelled eudaemonia, in Aristotelian ethics, as the condition of human flourishing or of living well.
So what does it mean to flourish and live well?
For each of us, we may have a definitive idea of what flourishing and living well would consist of. Today’s modern English translation of the Greek term, eudaimonia, is “happiness”. However, the word carried deeper meaning during the times of Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, the Stoics and the ancient philosophers of the Classical period. The origin of this word took shape to mean a broader sense of “human good” and “virtue”. For each character and individual, we also have our own uniqueness that lends toward what “human good” means to us. These unique characteristics are very much determined by our values. Our values drive us toward eudaimonia in each of our perceptions of the world and the role we play in it.
The Path Toward Happiness
So let’s dig a little deeper and try to find what eudaimonia means for each and every one of us. Let’s determine our values and what drives us. Let’s define eudaimonia in a way that has meaning in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Are we on the right track to finding eudaimonia?
Well, we are just getting started. We are about to embark on a journey toward our innermost ideal of what we would consider “the good life”. We are going to forge our paths forward toward happiness, contentment, high values, and life goals that will bring us closer to eudaimonia. We will help you find what drives you and makes your life meaningful while we learn from the greatest thinkers of all time and access the mental tools that were used for centuries to achieve wisdom and happiness.
Financial Wellness and Happiness
We all want to be content, have financial stability and a happy family. Yet, we often sacrifice our values for the sake of money and find that our families, friends, and those closest to us are impacted by our dealings. Those we embark on business affairs with are not always happy or content either, whether they are work colleagues or people independently working with each other toward a common goal, we sometimes come in conflict with one another on each of our own journeys toward the contentment that comes with financial wellbeing. In many cases, we are at opposite ends against our own eudaimonia in what appears to be the nature of life with its competitive dynamic that drives each of us toward what we consider to be contentment, which usually includes financial freedom and stability.
We are in many ways missing the mark of values and integrity while we satisfy the necessary means of survival. We want the best for everyone but we have to look out for #1 first, right? This is the nature of life and survival. We didn’t make the rules, we are just living by them.
However, what if you could make the rules? What would it mean to do the highest good and survive content with who you are and find value in what matters most to you. This is the way we will be looking at eudaimonia throughout this lesson and in future endeavors that follow. Future lessons will come with learnt experiences as we apply our knowledge to our daily lives for the betterment of ourselves and humanity(those around us).
The Lessons of Life
The lessons we learn along the hardship journeys we all must face plays a huge role in who we become and the grit, perseverance, relentless drive, and resilience that is built from those hardships carries us through the darkest of nights. We weather the windiest storms, carrying us through with all that we are. Believe it or not, that hardship journey, in many ways, led to the good life in the eyes of the Stoics.
Often referenced was the story of “The Choice of Hercules”. The Stoic founder, Zeno was inspired through Hercules due to his choice of virtue over vice and his resistance to temptation when the luring of a beautiful woman that had presented herself to Hercules as the obvious choice of pleasantry, Kakia (represented as a vice). Yet, Hercules chose Arete(virtue) rather the seduction of Kakia and went forward to endure great hardships and struggles that required much more work and involved danger. Ultimately, Hercules dies poisoned by clothing soaked in Hydra’s blood and trough his hardships and tough choices, Hercules earned the praise of Zeus. Following his death, Hercules was elevated to the status of a God due to Zeus’s admiration of the choices Hercules made and the hardships he had to endure in pursuit of virtue.
Reflecting Inward and Finding Your Values
Now, let’s put ourselves in Hercules shoes or in a manner of similar likeness. We can start by examining our choices and what would make us happy. Desires vs Admiration is the name of this exercise. We want to list the things that we desire, and we also want to list those things that we admire in others in separate columns. Take a moment to at least think about these lists and even write them down to have as a reference. And then think, who do you want to be, the desire filler or the admired? Consider how others will see you when you accomplish fulfilling your desires. Would they respect you more or admire you less?
Which of these feelings feels better and what brings you the highest sense of good? That is what the lesson is about, determining whether you are one that seeks desires or do you seek admiration for taking the higher road, the less desirable with virtue being your driving force. This is where you find your innermost values and the drive toward the highest self . This is often a drive toward better people as we all have admiration for those who have struggles and who overcome them. We admire those who did not lessen their character by taking the road less traveled(the easy road).
Putting Values Into Practice
What we will find is that our values are often laid aside while our desires are fulfilled when in order to feel whole and most accomplished, we should have taken the tougher, less traveled route. The one that does not succumb to desire but strives toward virtue. So, in order to reach eudaimonia, we should practice living by the virtuous values we hold at highest rank. Then, we are experiencing eudaimonia. When we have the feeling of gratitude and purpose in the world, there is nothing quite as fulfilling as completing a hard day’s work. In fact, it doesn’t feel like work at all when it is fulfilling and fulfillment is synonymous with eudaimonia.
Putting your values into practice will provide more than just happiness. It will provide many of the other synonymous terms associated with eudaimonia, i.e., “good fortune”, “fulfillment”, “blessedness”, “wellbeing”, “flourishing”, “the good life”, and “living well”. Basically, being a good person is living the good life. A person that is known to be in good spirits is thought of to have eudaimonia because the word “daimon” is derived from the Greek word “spirit”. They are in good spirits. Marcus Aurelius later defines the term eudaimonia as the perfection of the divine spark within or the ruling faculty, in accord with nature. Being one with the universe can also be thought of as eudaimonia. Therefore, our values are best aligned when being in good spirits and feeling one with the universe and nature is a part of them.
The Great Thinkers of Ancient Time’s Perspective on Eudaimonia
The truth is that the great thinkers of all time found true eudaimonia as rarely obtainable; yet, this did not stop them from seeking it. If obtainable, establishing eudaimonia was the highest accomplishment. It was said to be as rare as the Ethiopian Phoenix, born every 500 years according to legend. However, the Stoics believed that nature had its intention in us persevering toward the greater good through virtuous intentions. We can use the analogy here of karma having an impact on our wellbeing through the law of attraction and through our virtuous dealings. We get back what we give. Nature, in this way, had its intention on us striving toward an ideal human with capacity to dream and envisage our dreams, bringing them to a reality.
Is virtue alone then the path toward eudaimonia? Not necessarily but it plays a significant role, according to Chrysippus. Chrysippus held to the notion that if one acts with wisdom and virtue, life will ‘supervene’ on him when the actions become fixed in his behavior and he maintains his knowledge. (Stoebeus 5.907) In many ways, Stoic thought was one of living a joyful life full of virtue and good spirits. Zeno referred to these as ‘healthy passions’ or eupatheiai in Greek. However, virtue was long revered as the pathway to eudaimonia when Musonius Rufus taught centuries later that when we act with virtuous intent in accordance with nature: ‘A cheerful disposition and secure joy automatically accompany these attributes’.
For many of the ancient philosophers, eudaimonia was a way of life that would lead to attainment of joy and happiness. Often referred to as ‘the art of living’, eudaimonia can be seen as a philosophical way of life that has its value in the latter sense of pathway to happiness, joy, fulfillment, and human good. It is a joyous philosophy as much as it is a disciplined way of living to reach the greatest goal.
The Art of Living
As we forge forward and take the path less traveled, we seek out and find a higher attainment of ourselves and through discipline, find our way. It is the path that many seek toward enlightenment, nirvana, Zen, peace and harmony with nature and mankind. It is the inner gut telling the mind what to do with its heart in the right place. We are on the journey of our lives and for each of us, eudaimonia can have its own meaning. We can apply our values to what we feel is right for us and for those around us. Build your environment and live by the way of those seeking ‘human good’, ‘the good life’, ‘living well’ and find your way toward a better self. Seek out and find using the ‘art of living’ as your guide.