Eudaimonia. [you di mow nee a] It's Greek and it really is the key to a happy life.
Why do we need some foreign word nobody uses? Fair question, but think of it as a quirky way of summing up a key idea that could change your life. Once you get used to the pronunciation, it's memorable.
What is eudaimonia?
Aristotle used eudaimonia to describe the happiness that comes from living a virtuous life. These days, psychologists have dropped the moral baggage and use eudaimonia to describe what makes people thrive. For many, thriving includes the pleasures that come from adding meaning and purpose to our lives over time.
Short-term, we have what most people think of as happiness: the pleasure of a compliment from the boss, the delight of seeing a toddler’s first steps, the belly ache from a funny conversation with our partner. You get the picture. Those hedonistic pleasures are an important part of happiness for most people, but don’t last.
Think of eudaimonia as a long-term strategy. Sometimes we find the effort to achieve eudaimonia is only mildly pleasurable, like learning the piano.
The effort might even be unpleasant. Let me give you a personal example.
Recently, my wife and I drove from Paris to the south of France and through the French Alps to Turin, Italy. The first two days in our rented Renault Megane were a nightmare. Many people adapt to driving at up to 130 kph on the other side of the road easily. I didn’t. We began by avoiding the motorways where we could, but even then, the hundreds of intersections and roundabouts, narrow streets and decisions about giving way gave us both intense headaches. On the second morning I slumped into the driver’s seat feeling nauseous. The joys of being in France, speaking the language (hesitantly) and meeting so many friendly, helpful French people were hijacked by the stress.
Where’s the eudaimonia? It’s the feeling of satisfaction. I’ve even defaced our atlas by marking in the route we took. But the eudaimonia is not really from driving 1800 kilometres. It's the satisfaction of taking on a challenge and developing confidence as a driver. Staying home would have been easy.
There’s an even better way to achieve eudaimonia
People with the most satisfying lives are focused on causes beyond themselves. For many, eudaimonia comes from volunteering in the community. For others, it’s striving to be an excellent parent, friend, colleague or leader while living consistently according to their values.
Happiness? It’s too superficial a word. Let’s make eudaimonia the real focus.