In the study of Positive Psychology — or the scientific study of what makes life worth living — there are two kinds of happiness.
The first kind is hedonic happiness. It is focused on increasing pleasure and decreasing/avoiding pain. It focuses on the current state of emotions. It is short-lived and there is always a sense of wanting to move on to the next best thing.
The second kind of happiness is eudaimonic happiness (pronounced you-de-mon-ic). It is focused on striving for a meaningful existence. It allows for the ups and downs in the emotional state. It acknowledges that over the course of a lifetime there will be times of pleasure, but also discomfort and pain. It allows for adversity and growth as a result of the adversity. It looks at the experiences and actions taken in a lifetime for areas of growth and the day to day emotions are less important. It is happiness over the long game.
Moving from a life that is more hedonic happiness focused into a life that is more eudaimonic happiness focused is a game-changer. I know because I’ve experienced it and so do my clients who come to me because they want a more meaningful life.
Let me explain.
We live in a very hedonic culture in America. We want short cuts and we want to feel good all the time. We expect people to say they are fine when we ask and we do what we need to do to stop feeling not fine.
Feeling tired? Drink some coffee! Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Feeling sad/anxious/hopeless/overwhelmed? Drink some wine! Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Feeling out of sorts because you compared your life to someone else’s? Buy the thing!
That thing you bought didn’t fix how you feel? Buy another thing! Repeat, repeat, repeat.
These are some simple examples of how hedonic happiness can show up in our lives. I definitely have been here. I am still here on occasion because no one is perfect and hedonic happiness isn’t bad in and of itself.
What if we experimented with the eudaimonic happiness route instead? What could that look like?
Feeling tired? Acknowledge six hours isn’t enough to feel rested. Decide to get more sleep so you can feel good in the morning. Set an alarm to remind you to go to bed. Repeat until you are rested.
Feeling sad/anxious/hopeless/overwhelmed? Acknowledge these are all human feelings and that they will pass. Find a kind, compassionate person to help sit with the feelings. This could be a coach, a therapist, another healing professional. Be the kind, compassionate person to yourself who realizes she may need therapeutic intervention and maybe medication.
Feeling out of sorts because you compared your life to someone else’s? Acknowledge we don’t really know what is going on in other people’s lives especially if we are comparing our messy insides to their Instagram curated outsides. Then remember that we humans are all in this together. We all suffer. We all make mistakes. We are all doing the best we can.
Hedonic happiness isn’t wrong. Pleasure feels good. But ultimately for a lot of people it just doesn’t feel like enough. We end up searching for meaning and satisfaction after a life of pursuing pleasure.
Where are you on the two types of happiness scale? Do you lean more hedonic or more eudaimonic?
What do you think would help you feel more the way you want to feel in your life?