(2008-11-07) Boniwell What Is Eudaimonia? The Concept Of Eudaimonic WellBeing And Happiness

Ilona Boniwell: What is Eudaimonia? The Concept of Eudaimonic Well-Being and Happiness. Is happiness enough for a good life? This question is becoming increasingly prominent in positive psychology. Is feeling good an adequate measure of someone’s quality of life? Do we really know what it means to be subjectively well when we assess someone’s subjective well-being?

Problems With Existing Approaches to Happiness

Many researchers believe we don’t, saying that the current definition of well-being came about almost accidentally

Eudaimonic Happiness: An Alternative to Hedonic Happiness

Recently, another approach to a good life has risen out of the historical and philosophical debris – the idea of eudaimonic well-being. Aristotle was the originator of the concept of eudaimonia (from daimon – true nature). He deemed happiness to be a vulgar idea, stressing that not all desires are worth pursuing as, even though some of them may yield pleasure, they would not produce wellness

Aristotle thought that true happiness is found by leading a virtuous life and doing what is worth doing. He argued that realising human potential is the ultimate human goal. This idea was further developed in history by prominent thinkers, such as Stoics, who stressed the value of self-discipline, and John Locke, who argued that happiness is pursued through prudence.

Humanistic Psychology and the Actualising Tendency

Humanistic psychologists, such as Abraham Maslow (famous for developing the hierarchy of needs) and Carl Rogers, were probably the first ‘eudaimonists’ in the 20th century

*The premise of humanistic psychology was that people have a free will and make choices that influence their well-being. What also makes it very different from other perspectives in psychology is belief in the actualising tendency – a fundamental motivation towards growth. Rogers, the originator of the concept, describes it as:

‘…man’s tendency to actualize himself, to become potentialities.*

Theories of Well-Being: What Else Lives Under the Umbrella of Eudaimonia?

There are several theories of well-being which try to co-exist together under a relatively broad concept of eudaimonia

Daimon in Action

Psychological Well-being

PWB stands for psychological well-being, which is a model of well-being widely advocated by a psychology professor, Carol Ryff.

Carol Ryff has run many studies which provided so-called empirical support for her model. A lot of other people have run many studies that haven’t. They found that all six components can be accounted for by only two dimensions, one corresponding to hedonic, another to eudaimonic well-being.

Whilst all the components of PWB seem important, they still appear somewhat arbitrary.

Self-Determination Theory

developed by Ryan and Deci, postulates the existence of three inherent fundamental needs

Quite a number of psychologists agree that these three needs are the most basic ones, although self-esteem is also frequently mentioned.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Concept of Autotelic Personality

Autotelic people are those who often engage in activities for their own sake, and experience flow states frequently.

One problem with allocating flow into the eudaimonic camp is that some of Csikszentmihalyi’s characteristics of flow, including losing track of time and forgetting personal problems, seem to have much more to do with hedonic enjoyment than with eudaimonic endeavours.

Martin Seligman and the Authentic Happiness Model

Seligman believes that both pursuits of engagement/flow and meaning can be considered eudaimonic.


I wonder if you noticed a little problem with eudaimonic well-being? It’s a MESS! Eudaimonic well-being is not just an umbrella concept for many vaguely related theories, it’s a pot in which anything that is not related to pleasure is mixed up

I would like to suggest that eudaimonic well-being can be achieved by pursuing either of the following two routes – personal development/growth, or transcendence. So don’t give up yet, it all might make sense at the end!

Personal Development / Growth

Growth and personal life changes are not always experienced as pleasant

Carl Rogers, one of the fathers of humanistic psychology, observed that people who made real progress towards what can be considered ‘a good life’ would typically not regard themselves as happy or contented. He writes: ‘The good life is a process, not a state of being’.

We can look for several indicators of development. Amongst these are:

  • complexity and differentiation (e.g. how well we can manage diversity);
  • organisation and integration (e.g. ability to connect various elements);
  • flexibility; sensitivity (e.g. being aware of details and nuances);
  • mobility and dynamics (e.g. curiosity, interest, openness to novel situations);
  • internal control (e.g. ability to delay gratification);
  • broadness (e.g. open-mindedness);
  • and efficiency in utilising one’s potential and energy.


Transcendence is related to dedication and commitment to something or somebody else but oneself. It is also strongly related to finding meaning in one’s life and acting in accordance with this meaning.

Remember, life satisfaction is nothing more than a congruence between the present and an ideal situation, both of which are a reflection of the person’s own subjective appreciation of life... One can be satisfied with one’s life if one wants to pursue happiness and is pursuing happiness successfully, OR if one chooses to live a more eudaimonically oriented life and this is exactly what one is doing.

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