What is Happiness?
This is a question that has been asked since the dawn of time; What is true happiness? What do we mean by this term and how do we attain it? Philosophers, psychologists and social scientists, in exploring and debating this issue for millennia, have come to view the matter from two separate perspectives.
There are two general theories as to what happiness means.
One is the hedonic theory. This suggests that happiness – or well-being – is entirely about the attainment of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. The more pleasure you have and the less pain you experience, the happier you are and the greater your well being.
On the other side is the Eudaimonic theory. This focuses on meaning, and defines well-being in terms of self realization, i.e. the extent to which we are fulfilling our potential in life.
The hedonic view goes all the way back to the Greek philosopher, Aristippus, who in the fourth century B.C., described the ultimate goal in life as experiencing the maximum amount of pleasure. He defined happiness as the sum total of the hedonic moments you have had in life. Other philosophers have added to this notion since; Hobbes argued that happiness was all about successfully pursuing our human appetites, while DeSade suggest that the purpose of life was the pursuit of sensation and pleasure. Hedonism has ultimately come to be defined as subjective well being.
The Eudaimonic view counts among its supporters, not just philosophers and psychologists but visionaries including spiritual and religious teachers from both East and West. Aristotle believed that true happiness was to be found in the expression of virtue – i.e. in doing that which was worth doing. More recently Fromm described true happiness as deriving, not from momentary pleasure, but from human growth. He attached greater value to pursuits that were of importance to humanity as a whole, rather than the individual’s own pleasure alone. This is a more holistic view, seeing the individual as part of a wider organism and defining happiness as that point at which your own fulfilment coincides with that of wider society. This is when you live in accordance with your “daimon” i.e. “true self”.Continued on the next page