Colorful hot air balloons floating across a blue sky.
June 2022 Elena Frankel

I Could Be Happy

The Pursuit of Eudaimonia and Why Happiness is Overrated.

On an emotionally charged shopping spree? Happy. Downing a pint of ice cream while binge-watching Netflix? Happy. Kick back a few martinis on a Friday night? Happy. But is that really what it is?

 

In ancient Greece, philosophers often debated about the meaning of life and the pursuit of true happiness. Aristotle and Plato determined that true 'happiness' is more about flourishing than experiencing simple joys or pleasures. In many ways, they viewed our modern interpretation of happiness as rather hedonistic. Consider the instant gratification one feels when their social media post gets a ‘like’ or comment. The feeling of elation is fleeting, and this emotion is tied more closely to what is considered a dopamine hit, and less about true inner happiness.  

 

The term ‘eudaimonia’ was coined by Aristotle and correlates with a life lived in pursuit of moral excellence, ethics and character. Eudaimonia is what many of us search for and make attempts at to live a life full of integrity with its ups and downs.  It is about the journey, with intention, and deeply rooted in virtue. 

 

Greek architectural pillars with sculptures of ancient goddesses.
A deflated yellow balloon with a smiley face resting on a concrete sidewalk.

Aristotle believed that not everyone will achieve true eudaimonia, but that everyone has the potential to do so. “Eu” means “good” while “daimon” means “spirit.” Buying a new handbag might make you feel happy, but it doesn’t have any purpose in creating a life of value.  Admitting to a terrible mistake or choice and facing redemption weighs more heavily on a person’s development of character than the ‘happiness’ one might feel eating a favorite meal or gaining new followers on Instagram. Students in high school or college quickly realize that a perfect G.P.A or high-test score does not guarantee a fulfilling life. As we see too often today, the opposite lends true and that this need for perfection often results in anxious, high-strung individuals. 

 

In the modern world, we consider emotional well-being and self-care  key in achieving true eudaimonia. Nurturing healthy relationships and having deep passions in our lives are other ways we find fulfillment. However, our spirits often flourish through personal failures as well. Growth often happens as the result of poor choices and regrets, so in order to evolve, it is almost always essential to learn from mistakes and personal shortcomings and not be 'perfect.'

 

We live in a time of excessive consumption coupled with short attention spans, all of which give us nothing other than quick bursts of elation that quickly dissipate. The idea of reaching eudaimonia is based on the pursuit of excellence and virtue: a good soul versus good luck or fortune. Eudaimonia is the search for a richer, more fulfilling life, while happiness is fleeting, temporary, and based on emotions and impulses. And so, when we read about people needing to take a break from social media, it makes perfect sense why they would. While it can be fun to scroll around and find some good content from time-to-time, it also keeps us away from our own lives that need to be lived. It pulls us away from experiences we need to learn from and lean into. And it drives us away from learning about ourselves and each other. 

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