Eudaimonic and Hedonic Well-Being


We all want to be happy. But in the end, what does that really mean? 

When most people think of happiness, we think of the presence of positive feelings, the minimization of negative feelings, and a sense of satisfaction with your life. But as we’ll come to see in this article, happiness is so much more, including engagement in important work, making valuable contributions to society, living in alignment with moral virtues, and more (Ryff, 1989).

Intro to Eudaimonia… From Aristotle to Today

The concept of Eudaimonia dates back to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in the 4th century BCE, in which he described it as “activity expressing virtue.” 

Millennia later, the theory has stood the test of time. The theory laid the groundwork for the mid-20th century theories of Maslow’s self-actualization and May’s daimon. By the end of the 20th century, positive psychology was performing experiments to arrive at a quantifiable and objective measurement of well-being. Still, Aristotle’s theory has survived. 

Modern thinkers and those in the field of positive psychology now refer to it as “flourishing.” The modern experts have a number of definitions for it:

  • “A reflection of virtue, excellence, and the development of one’s full potential” (Huta & Waterman, 2014).
  • “The subjective experiences related to doing what is worth doing and having what is worth having” (Norton, 1976; Telfer, 1980) 
  • “Eudaimonia, as a subjective state, refers to the feelings present when one is moving toward self-realization in terms of the developing one’s unique individual potentials and furthering one’s purposes in living” (Waterman, Schwartz, & Conti, 2008, p. 42). 
  • Some think of eudaimonia as a “motive to develop the best in oneself” (Huta, 2015). 
  • Still others suggest it is living a life in full accord with one’s potential (Ryan and Deci, 2001).

Despite the definition of choice, all can agree that eudaimonia remains to be a core pillar of a happy life.

Eudaimonic vs. Hedonic Well-Being

But is eudaimonia all there is to a happy life? In short, no. Enter hedonic well-being.

Hedonic well-being in short is the achieving of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. How does it relate to eudaimonic well-being? They’re close sisters. Eudaimonic and hedonic well-being are strongly related, and even experienced simultaneously (Waterman, 1993). They are both “related but distinct conceptions of well-being” (Keyes et al., 2002, p. 1017).

In short, BOTH are important and a happy life is one that is high in both. They both provide us happiness in their own way. Or more accurately, on their own timeline. Those who perform hedonic activities for just 10 days experience more immediate but fleeting well-being benefits immediately following the activity. When you perform eudaimonic activities, the effect isn’t as immediate, but you’ll experience well-being benefits for months and months (Huta & Ryan, 2010).

Ryff’s Model

So that’s it? We should focus on finding pleasure and being altruistic? Others have come along and further refined and improved on these long-standing theories. 

Ryff’s model of psychological well-being includes six central dimensions (Ryff, 1989, 2014; Ryff & Singer, 2006). To highlight the central features of each factor brie!y: 

  • Self-acceptance refers to the awareness and acceptance of one’s personal strengths and weaknesses; 
  • Positive relationships with others refers to deep connections with significant others; 
  • Autonomy is living in accordance to one’s own convictions; 
  • Environmental mastery is managing life situations; 
  • Purpose in life is the extent to which one’s life feels meaningful and purposefully directed; and 
  • Personal growth is achieved when one is using his or her personal talents and potential.

We'll cover each of Ryff's dimensions in turn in 6 of the months of the Bodhi program, including how to master these and incorporate them into your daily life.


Self-determination Theory

A simpler model is that of self-determination theory. It states that there are three basic psychological needs essential for optimal growth and integration and constructive social development. As such, the satisfaction of these three needs fosters eudaimonic well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2000). 

  1. Autonomy
  2. Relatedness
  3. Competence

Built on top of Self-determination Theory is the model for categorizing eudaimonic living into four central motivational concepts (Ryan et al., 2008):

  • Pursuing intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, goals and values
  • Behaving in an autonomous and volitional, rather than controlled, manner
  • Being mindful and acting with awareness 
  • Behaving in need satisfying ways 

We'll coverall 7 topics in the Bodhi program, including how to not just learn them, but embody them.

Meaning in Life

So far, we’ve introduced eudaimonic and hedonic well-being. We’ve talked about how they laid the foundation for modern theories. We’ve run through some of those theories, including Ryff’s Model and Self-determination Theory. 

The last topic we’ll cover in detail is meaning in life. This is now considered one of the most important factors for finding lasting happiness in life. First, a definition:

“Lives may be experienced as meaningful when they are felt to have a significance beyond the trivial or momentary, to have purpose, or to have a coherence that transcends chaos” (King, Hicks, Krull, & Del Gaiso, 2006, p. 180). 

Purpose, significance, coherence. Let’s dig into those a tad deeper.

  • Purpose – engagement in goal directed pursuits: Striving towards personally significant goals is related to feelings that life is worth living
  • Significance – the feeling of mattering or making an impact, and building a legacy that will transcend the self
  • Coherence – the degree to which stimuli, events, and one’s life make sense and fit with expectations
  • (George & Park, 2016a, 2016b; Heintzelman & King, 2013; 2014a, 2014b; Martela & Steger, 2016)

In the Bodhi program, we'll apply these across 3 different mantras/months of the program.


Benefits of Meaning in Life

Having meaning in your life comes with many benefits, including:

  • Physical health (for review, see Roepke, Jayawickreme, & Riffle, 2014)
  • Mental health (Heisel & Flett, 2004; Mascaro & Rosen, 2005; Owens, Steger, Whitesell, & Herrera, 2009; Steger & Kashdan, 2009)
  • Social functioning (Stavrova & Luhmann, 2016; Stillman, Lambert, Fincham, & Baumeister, 2011)


There are two other important elements to eudaimonic well-being that we’ll cover in more detail in another blog post, and of course, we'll cover them in the program:

  • Flow: voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990)
  • Character Strengths: positive traits reflected in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004, p. 603)

Wrapping it all up

We hope you’ve learned a thing or two about what modern, objective theories have to say about being happy, and how and where these modern theories legitimize or contradict ancient theories. Certainly your takeaways could include:

  • Focus on both pleasure-seeking and altruistic behavior
  • Get to a place where you have autonomy, then shoot for MASTERY!
  • Be mindful with yourself, and cultivate good relationships with others
  • Find purpose/meaning in your life, make it significant, look for the coherence to the story
  • Never stop growing!

We also would take this moment to point out that while science is helping to clarify and measure exactly what makes us happy, these are all still theoretical models. So where one model points to A, B, and C as being important, and another points to B, C, and D, and still another points to A, B, C, D, and E, none of these models are wrong per se. In all likelihood, ALL of the included dimensions are important and have a positive impact on well-being. They're simply different angles from which you can approach well-being.

That's why the Bodhi program has collected all the results of every major study, amassed the superset of theories and dimensions out there, and consolidated them into a single program. That way, you know you're getting a full education as to the current best thinking and are sure to have the best shot at mastering the practice of taking control of your life and making it a great one.


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