The 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness depicts the struggles of Chriss Gardner, a homeless man down on his luck. Despite many trials and tribulations, Gardner overcomes obstacles to attain a most coveted internship position with Deam Witter Reynolds. In essence, the film is about the rewards that hard work, perseverance and resilience brings. But as the name implies, it is also about the pursuit of happiness. At the end of the film, the epilogue notes that Gardner went on later to start his own investment firm. The assumption, at least on a superficial level, that his escape from poverty and homelessness awarded him the happiness he sought. But at a deeper level, the film is about the concept of eudaimonia, which is a more relevant subject about happiness.
You might not have never heard of eudaimonia and positive psychology, but when it comes to true happiness, these are important terms. The concept of eudaimonia explores happiness in a way that goes well beyond the pursuit of pleasure. When we think about happiness, it’s easy to assume things that make us feel good are worth pursuing. But as we all know, too much of a good thing often leads to undesirable consequences. As a result, real happiness doesn’t involve hedonistic pleasures only. It involves other more meaningful experiences that include personal growth, connectedness, and existential meaning. This lies at the heart of eudaimonia and positive psychology today, and it’s something we all could use.
Understanding the Concept of Eudaimonia
Believe it or not, the origins of eudaimonia dates back to Ancient Greece during the time of Aristotle. Aristotle believed that true happiness came from leading a virtuous life rather than one that simply sought pleasure. He developed the concept of eudaimonia based on the Greek word, “daimon,” which meant one’s true nature. In this regard, Aristotle envisioned real happiness and wellbeing involving the ability to realize one’s human potential. By pursuing meaning in one’s life, eudaimonic happiness could be attained. And compared to more sensual pleasures, this form of happiness was more lasting and fulfilling.
Fast forward to the mid-20th century, and psychologists began to take over where ancient philosophers left off. Humanistic psychology in particular acknowledged eudaimonia and positive psychology as the foundation of happiness. Prior to this, behavioral psychologists saw human beings as robots that simply responded to environmental stimuli. Psychoanalysts perceived the pursuit of happiness as exploring innate responses to life experiences. But humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers and Martin Seligman believed in a more profound version of happiness. Eudaimonia and positive psychology believed self-actualization and growth were relevant. Finding a purpose and meaning in life was what brought about happiness rather than simply feel-good experiences.
The Key Components of Eudaimonia
When it comes to hedonism, the goal is to simply maximize pleasure while minimalizing pain. If it feels good, then do it, and vice versa. The concept of eudaimonia, however, is a bit more complex. In fact, many psychologists and philosophers alike have tried to define it in more complete terms. While few agree on a precise definition of its components, several are worth noting. Some highlight the importance of autonomy, competence, and social relations in attaining eudaimonia. Others also consider personal growth and being able to find meaning in life as key parts of eudaimonia and positive psychology. And others suggest it involves living for something beyond one’s own self.
In any case, it is clear that the concept of eudaimonia considers happiness in greater depth. At its core, eudaimonia can be characterized as involving transcendence, personal development, or both. Transcendence is defined as being committed to something or someone beyond one’s own self. It requires finding meaning in life in something externally, whether it be charity or spiritual pursuits. On the other hand, personal development strives to better understand oneself and the world at large. It invests in learning and new experiences that allow ongoing interpretations and growth. Eudaimonia and positive psychology experts see either of these as being consistent with this concept. And either can lead to a more fulfilling version of happiness.
The Pursuit of Real Happiness
So, what does this all mean when it comes to realizing happiness in our own lives? According to those who believe in eudaimonia and positive psychology, a meaningful life involves more than just pleasure. On one end of the spectrum, the concept of eudaimonia encourages us to explore novel and gratifying experiences. It is these experiences that help us grow and mature as human beings. At the other end, it suggests that we should strive to find meaning and purpose in our lives. For some, this might involve spiritual pursuits while in others meaning may be found valued accomplishment. Any of these can lead to a deeper happiness, and therefore, these are the types of pursuits we should consider.
Returning to the film The Pursuit of Happyness, it is evident that Gardner alleviated much pain through perseverance and effort. But his journey was much more than this. It involved tremendous personal growth and mastery of his environment. It required dedication to something that was bigger than himself. And ultimately, his pursuits provided him with a purpose and meaning that went beyond a paycheck. Looking at the film in this way, it becomes evident that it too promotes the concept of eudaimonia.
Of course, this does not mean to imply that hedonistic and pleasure-seeking is necessarily bad. Sensual pleasures certainly have their place when it comes to realizing happiness. But as human beings, this alone is often not sufficient when it comes to personal fulfillment. This is where the concept of eudaimonia comes into play. Eudaimonia and positive psychology lead us down a different path… one that helps us realize our boldest potential.
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