Eudaimonia is a word from ancient Greece. People like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others taught it in Greece. (Where they learned it is another article.) In English, it is often misinterpreted as happiness. However, the Greeks had no obsession with happiness. They were focused on fulfillment. Furthermore, they sought fulfillment throughaccomplishment and living a good life. For them, eudaimonia was the state of being you reached as a result of struggle and being stretched beyond your known limits.
In modern day culture, happiness is not only the end result people seek. It is the means and the end. The quandary with that is happiness can be self-induced. You can literally sit in one place and accomplish nothing. To experience happiness, you can laugh and laugh and you will experience happiness. Or you can indulge in intoxicants like drugs and alcohol to induce the happy feeling. At the end, your life and personal development will be exactly where it has always been. That is analogous to eating lots of white bread. Your stomach is full while your body receives no nutritional value – empty calories.
In addition, happiness is sought in everything you do. There are chants that say “if it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it”. This approach will cause you to chase one rainbow – job or relationship – after another. As soon as the goal no longer provides happiness, you are likely to quit. And you will be able to justify quitting by declaring the goal no longer made you happy. It’s very difficult to master anything with that approach. Besides, no one or no thing can make you happy.
On the other hand, if you were to take the Greek approach, you would work through the discomfort of being stretched. Instead of seeking happiness, you would seek to become more than you have ever been. With an intention to be fulfilled, you learn to find fulfillment in struggle. That is analogous to exercising. When you run or lift weights, there comes a point in the workout where the exercise is difficult and you feel uncomfortable. However, those are the moments you become a little stronger or faster. To avoid that discomfort is to avoid progress.
The state of happiness could have you remain content with status quo. Improvement over time may bring sufficient happiness. Except, you would most likely never break a world record or your personal best.
When pursuing eudaimonia as a state of mind, it is likely you are seeking mastery or a breakthrough. That is a very different mindset than being happy with the way things are. While accepting where you are is powerful, happiness is not the end game. Being fulfilled by realizing your full potential is the end game.
In Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is the pinnacle. That is where you become your full potential. Through eudaimonia, embracing the discomfort of the challenge to become your full potential is encouraged as a significant part of the process. Without the discomfort, it may be questioned as to whether or not you realized your full potential.
To take it a step further, when you look at a corporation, some of the most cohesive teams are the ones who worked on a difficult project and succeeded. During the difficulties, people may have felt disappointed and blamed one another. When the mission was accomplished, they were able to reflect on what worked and didn’t work. That becomes the platform to work together on subsequent projects. Whether it’s a married couple, sports team or business, difficult challenges can bring people together or tear them apart. If eudaimonia was part of their philosophy, they would more likely embrace the problem and work through it together. That’s living the eudaimonia life. Which would you choose – happiness or eudaimonia?
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